Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "Atheism in pagan antiquity"

See other formats









Syeelc ODn^p^k^ 


THE present treatise originally appeared in Danish 
as a University publication {Kjæbenhavns Uni- 
versitets Festskrift^ November 1919). In submitting 
it to the English public, I wish to acknowledge my 
profound indebtedness to Mr. G. F. Hill of the British 
Museum, who not only suggested the English edition, but 
also with untiring kindness has subjected the translation, 
as originally made by Miss Ingeborg Andersen, M.A. of 
Copenhagen, to a painstaking and most valuable revision. 

For an account of the previous treatments of the subject, 
as well as of the method employed in my investigation, 
the reader is referred to the introductory remarks which 
precede the Notes. 


July 1922. 

5176 .3 


Preface ....... P. v 

Introduction ...... Pp. 1-4 

Definition of atheism ; its extension in antiquity and later ; 
doubtful cases, i. — Limitation of the inquiry ; its relation 
to the conception of antiquity, 4. 


Conception and Treatment of Denial of the Gods 

IN Antiquity; Accounts of Deniers . . Pp. 5-14 

Atheism and atheist modern words ; the terms of antiquity 
and their meaning, 5. — Judicial conception and treatment 
of deniers at Athens and at Rome, 6. — Resumé, 11, — Lists 
of atheists, 13. 


Naive Criticism of Popular Religion ; Xenophanes Pp. 15-21 

Character of the ancient religion : higher and lower 
notions ; the beginning of criticism (Pindar, Euripides), 15. 
— Xenophanes, 17. 


Ionic Naturalism ; Diagoras . . . .Pp. 22-34 

Natural philosophy critical of popular belief, but its criticism 
not radical. Pantheism. Democritus, 22. — Anaxagoras ; 
circle of Pericles; Thucydides, 25. — Hippo and Diogenes, 
29. — Diagoras, 31. 


Sophistic and its Influence . . . .Pp. 35-63 

Character of Sophistic : relativism ; sociological point of 
view ; practical purpose ; inconsistency, 35. — Protagoras, 
39; Prodicus, 42. — Critias, 44. — Euripides, 51. — 
Socrates in Aristophanes and in the indictment ; Ari- 
stodemus in Xenophon, 56. — Mutilation of the Hermae, 
60. — Plato's Laws, 61. 

Socrates and the Socratics . . . .Pp. 64-88 

Contrast between Sophists and Socratics, 64. — Socrates 
in Aristophanes ; in the indictment ; in the defence, 67. — 
Socrates no theologian, but a religious moralist ; his 
adherence to popular belief and to the old religious 
thought ; causes of his condemnation ; the Delphic Oracle 
and what it meant to him; his daimonion, 67. — The 
Socratics : Cynics, Megarians, Cyrenaics ; Theodorus, 
74- — Plato : his views in youth and in old age ; ir- 
rationality of the conceptions of the gods, 76. — Xeno- 
crates and demonology, 81. — Aristotle : his trial ; 
theology; denial of the gods of popular belief, 83. — 
Strato, 87. — Concluding remarks, 87. 

Hellenism. ...... Pp. 89-119 

Advance of oriental religions ; weakening of popular 
belief; Polybius on popular belief in Greece and at 
Rome, 89. — The Tyche-religion : in Thucydides and 
Demosthenes, 92 ; under Alexander and his successors, 
93 ; in Polybius and the elder Pliny, 94 ; in the ' 

Romances, 95. — Decline of the oracles, 96. — Want of 
respect to sanctuaries, 97. — Decay of Roman state-wor- 
ship, 98. — Philosophy ; Stoics, 103 ; Epicureans, 105 ; 
Sceptics, 107; Cynics, 109; Euhemerus, ill. — 
Individuals: Polybius, Cicero, 113. — Reaction under 
Augustus ; the elder Pliny, 117. 

Period of the Roman Empire . . .Pp. 120-132 

Reaction in the second century; Stoicism, r20. — 
Tendencies in opposition : the Cynics ; Oenomaus ; 
Lucian, 123. — Monotheism: Judaism, 126; Christianity 
and demonology, 128. 


Middle Ages and Recent Times . . . Pp. 133-145 

Difficulties of treatment, 133. — Demonology in Milton, 
G. I. Voss, Thomas Aquinas ; in Dante and other poets ; 
in magic ; in the view of contemporary paganism, 134. — 
Worship of pagan gods in the Renaissance, 138. — 
Naturalistic interpretations in Thomas Aquinas and 
later ; Hebraism and Huet ; allegorical interpretation 
in Natalis Comes and Bacon ; alchemistic interpretation, 
138, — Demonology as explanation of the oracles ; criti- 
cised in the Renaissance (Rhodiginus, Calcagninus, 
Pomponazzi) and by van Dale and Fontenelle ; con- 
servative opposition of Banier, 140. — i8th century: 
Vico ; Euhemerism in Banier and Bryant ; nature-sym- 
bolism in Dupuis, 143. — 19th century, 144. 

Retrospect . . . . . .Pp. 146-152 

Atheism only in the upper classes, and even there rare, 
except in certain periods ; Philosophy critical and yet 
accommodating towards popular belief; victory of 
demonology, 146. — Causes of the scarceness of atheism : 
defective knowledge of nature. Its victory in the i8th 
century conditioned by the progress of natural science ; 
the positive insight into the essence of paganism due to 
New Humanism, 149. 

Notes . . . . . . .Pp. 153-164 

Index . . . . . . .Pp. 165-168 



THE present inquiry is the outcome of a 
request to write an article on " Atheism " 
for a projected dictionary of the religious 
history of classical antiquity. On going through 
the sources I found that the subject might well 
deserve a more comprehensive treatment than the 
scope of a dictionary would allow. It is such a 
treatment that I have attempted in the following 

A difficulty that occurred at the very beginning 
of the inquiry was how to define the notion of 
atheism. Nowadays the term is taken to designate 
the attitude which denies every idea of God. Even 
antiquity sometimes referred to atheism in this 
sense ; but an inquiry dealing with the history of 
religion could not start from a definition of that 
kind. It would have to keep in view, not the 
philosophical notion of God, but the conceptions of 
the gods as they appear in the religion of antiquity. 
Hence I came to define atheism in Pagan antiquity 
as the point of view which denies the existence of the 
ancient gods. It is in this sense that the word will 
be used in the following inquiry. 

Even though we disregard philosophical athe- 


ism, the definition is somewhat narrow ; for 
in antiquity mere denial of the existence of the 
gods of popular belief was not the only attitude 
which was designated as atheism. But it has the 
advantage of starting from the conception of the 
ancient gods that may be said to have finally pre- 
vailed. In the sense in which the word is used 
here we are nowadays all of us atheists. We do 
not beUeve that the gods whom the Greeks and the 
Romans worshipped and believed in exist or have 
ever existed ; we hold them to be productions of 
the human imagination to which nothing real corre- 
sponds. This view has nowadays become so in- 
grained in us and appears so self-evident, that we 
find it difficult to imagine that it has not been 
prevalent through long ages ; nay, it is perhaps a 
widely diffused assumption that even in antiquity 
educated and unbiased persons held the same 
view of the religion of their people as we do. In 
reality both assumptions are erroneous : our 
" atheism " in regard to ancient paganism is of 
recent date, and in antiquity itself downright denial 
of the existence of the gods was a comparatively 
rare phenomenon. The demonstration of this fact, 
rather than a consideration of the various inter- 
mediate positions taken up by the thinkers of 
antiquity in their desire to avoid a complete rupture 
with the traditional ideas of the gods, has been one 
of the chief purposes of this inquiry. 

Though the definition of atheism set down here 
might seem to be clear and unequivocal, and though 
I have tried to adhere strictly to it, cases have 
unavoidably occurred that were difficult to classify. 


The most embarrassing are those which involve a 
reinterpretation of the conception of the gods, i.e. 
which, while acknowledging that there is some reality 
corresponding to the conception, yet define this 
reality as essentially different from it. Moreover, 
the acknowledgment of a certain group of gods (the 
celestial bodies, for instance) combined with the 
rejection of others, may create difficulties in de- 
fining the notion of atheism ; in practice, however, 
this doctrine generally coincides with the former, 
by which the gods are explained away. On the 
whole it would hardly be just, in a field of inquiry 
like the present, to expect or require absolutely 
clearly defined boundary-lines ; transition forms will 
always occur. 

The persons of whom it is related that they 
denied the existence of the ancient gods are in 
themselves few, and they all belong to the highest 
level of culture'; by far the greater part of them 
are simply professional philosophers. Hence the 
inquiry will almost exclusively have to deal with 
philosophers and philosophical schools and their 
doctrines ; of religion as exhibited in the masses, 
as a social factor, it will only treat by exception. 
But in its purpose it is concerned with the history 
of religion, not with philosophy ; therefore — in ac- 
cordance with the definition of its object — it will 
deal as little as possible with the purely philosophical 
notions of God that have nothing to do with popular 
religion. What it aims at illustrating is a certain — 
if you like, the negative — aspect of ancient religion. 
But its result, if it can be sufficiently established, 
will not be without importance for the under- 


standing of the positive religious sense of antiquity. 
If you want to obtain some idea of the hold a 
certain religion had on its adherents, it is not amiss 
to know something about the extent to which it 
dominated even the strata of society most exposed 
to influences that went against it. 

It might seem more natural, in dealing with 
atheism in antiquity, to adopt the definition current 
among the ancients themselves. That this method 
would prove futile the following investigation will, 
I hope, make sufficiently evident ; antiquity suc- 
ceeded as little as we moderns in connecting any 
clear and unequivocal idea with the words that 
signify " denial of God." On the other hand, it is, 
of course, impossible to begin at all except from the 
traditions of antiquity about denial and deniers. 
Hence the course of the inquiry will be, first to make 
clear what antiquity understood by denial of the 
gods and what persons it designated as deniers, and 
then to examine in how far these persons were 
atheists in our sense of the word. 


ATHEISM and atheist are words formed from 
Greek roots and with Greek derivative 
endings. Nevertheless they are not 
Greek ; their formation is not consonant with 
Greek usage. In Greek they said atheos and 
atheotes ; to these the Enghsh words ungodly and 
ungodliness correspond rather closely. In exactly 
the same way as ungodly, atheos was used as an 
expression of severe censure and moral condemna- 
tion ; this use is an old one, and the oldest that can 
be traced. Not till later do we find it employed 
to denote a certain philosophical creed ; we even 
meet with philosophers bearing atheos as a regular 
surname. We know very little of the men in 
question ; but it can hardly be doubted that atheos, 
as apphed to them, implied not only a denial of the 
gods of popular belief, but a denial of gods in the 
widest sense of the word, or Atheism as it is nowa- 
days understood. 

In this case the word is more particularly a 
philosophical term. But it was used in a similar 
sense also in popular language, and corresponds 
then closely to the English " denier of God," de- 
noting a person who denies the gods of his people 
and State. From the popular point of view the 
interest, of course, centred in those only, not in the 


exponents of philosophical theology. Thus we 
find the word employed both of theoretical denial 
of the gods (atheism in our sense) and of practical 
denial of the gods, as in the case of the adherents 
of monotheism, Jews and Christians. 

Atheism, in the theoretical as well as the practi- 
cal sense of the word, was, according to the ancient 
conception of law, always a crime ; but in practice 
it was treated in different ways, which varied both 
according to the period in question and according 
to the more or less dangerous nature of the threat 
it offered to established reUgion. It is only as far 
as Athens and Imperial Rome are concerned that 
we have any definite knowledge of the law and the 
judicial procedure on this point ; a somewhat 
detailed account of the state of things in Athens 
and Rome cannot be dispensed with here. 

In the criminal law of Athens we meet with 
the term aseheia — literally : impiety or disrespect 
towards the gods. As an established formula 
of accusation of aseheia existed, legislation must 
have dealt with the subject ; but how it was 
defined we do not know. The word itself conveys 
the idea that the law particularly had offences 
against public worship in view ; and this is con- 
firmed by the fact that a number of such offences — 
from the felling of sacred trees to the profanation of 
the Eleusinian Mysteries — were treated as aseheia. 
When, in the next place, towards the close of the 
fifth century B.C., free-thinking began to assume 
forms which seemed dangerous to the religion of 
the State, theoretical denial of the gods was also 
included under aseheia. . From about the beginning 


of the_J^eloponnesian War to the_j:lose_of_the 
fourth century_R_c., there are on record a number 
of prosecutions of philosophers who were tried and 
condemned for denial of the gods. The indict- 
ment seems in most cases — the trial of Socrates is 
the only one of which we know details — to have 
been on the charge of aseheia, and the procedure 
proper thereto seems to have been employed, 
though there was no proof or assertion of the 
accused having offended against public worship ; 
as to Socrates, we know the opposite to have been 
the case ; he worshipped the gods like any other 
good citizen. This extension of the conception of 
aseheia to include theoretical denial of the gods 
no doubt had no foundation in law ; this is amongst 
other things evident from the fact that it was neces- 
sary, in order to convict Anaxagoras, to pass a 
special public resolution in virtue of which his free- 
thinking theories became indictable. The law pre- 
sumably dated from a time when theoretical denial of 
the gods lay beyond the horizon of legislation. Never- 
theless, in the trial of Socrates it is simply taken 
for granted that denial of the gods is a capital crime, 
and that not only on the side of the prosecution, but 
also on the side of the defence : the trial only turns 
on a question of fact, the legal basis is taken for 
granted. So inveterate, then, at this time was the 
conception of the unlawful nature of the denial of 
the gods among the people of Athens. 

In the course of the fourth century B.C. several 
philosophers were accused of denial of the gods or 
blasphemy ; but after the close of the century we L 
hear no more of such trials. To be sure, our know- 


ledge of the succeeding centuries, when Athens was 
but a provincial town, is far less copious than of the 
days of its greatness ; nevertheless, it is beyond 
doubt that the practice in regard to theoretical 
denial of the gods was changed. A philosopher 
like Carneades, for instance, might, in view of his 
sceptical standpoint, just as well have been con- 
victed of aseheia as Protagoras, who was convicted 
because he had declared that he did not know 
whether the gods existed or not ; and as to such a 
process against Carneades, tradition would not have 
remained silent. Instead, we learn that he was 
employed as the trusted representative of the State 
on most important diplomatic missions. It is 
evident that Athens had arrived at the point of view 
that the theoretical denial of the gods might be 
tolerated, whereas the law, of course, continued to 
protect public worship. 

In Rome they did not possess, as in Athens, a 
general statute against religious offences ; there 
were only special provisions, and they were, more- 
over, few and insufficient. This defect, however, 
was remedied by the vigorous police authority 
with which the Roman magistrates were invested. 
In Rome severe measures were often taken against 
movements which threatened the Roman official 
worship, but it was done at the discretion of the 
administration and not according to hard-and-fast 
rules ; hence the practice was somewhat varying, 
and a certain arbitrariness inevitable. 

No example is known from Rome of action 
taken against theoretical denial of the gods cor- 
responding to the trials of the philosophers in 



Athens. The main cause of this was, no doubt, 
that free-thinking in the fifth century B.C. invaded 
Hellas, and specially Athens, like a flood which threat- 
ened to overthrow everything ; in Rome, on the 
other hand, Greek philosophy made its way in 
slowly and gradually, and this took place at a time 
when in the country of its origin it had long ago 
found a modus vivendi with popular religion and 
was acknowledged as harmless to the established 
worship. The more practical outlook of the 
Romans may perhaps also have had something to 
say in the matter : they were rather indifferent 
to theoretical speculations, whereas they were not 
to be trifled with when their national institutions 
were concerned. 

In consequence of this point of view the Roman 
government first came to deal with denial of the 
gods as a breach of law when confronted with the 
two monotheistic religions which invaded the 
Empire from the East. That which distinguished 
Jews and Christians from Pagans was not that they 
denied the existence of the Pagan gods — the Chris- 
tians, at any rate, did not do this as a rule — but 
that they denied that they were gods, and therefore 
refused to worship them. They were practical, 
not theoretical deniers. The tolerance which the 
Roman government showed towards all foreign 
creeds and the result of which in imperial times was, 
practically speaking, freedom of religion over the 
whole Empire, could not be extended to the Jews 
and the Christians ; for it was in the last resort 
based on reciprocity, on the fact that worship of the 
Egyptian or Persian gods did not exclude worship 


of the Roman ones. Every convert, on the other 
hand, won over to Judaism or Christianity was eo 
ipso an apostate from the Roman rehgion, an 
atheos according to the ancient conception. Hence, 
as soon as such reUgions began to spread, they con- 
stituted a serious danger to the estabhshed rehgion, 
and the Roman government intervened. Judaism 
and Christianity were not treated quite ahke ; in 
this connexion details are of no interest, but 
certain principal features must be dwelt on as 
significant of the attitude of antiquity towards 
denial of the gods. To simplify matters I con- 
fine myself to Christianity, where things are less 

The Christians were generally designated as 
atheoi, as deniers of the gods, and the objection 
against them was precisely their denial of the 
Pagan gods, not their religion as such. When the 
Christian, summoned before the Roman magis- 
trates, agreed to sacrifice to the Pagan gods 
(among them, the Emperor) he was acquitted ; 
he was not punished for previously having at- 
tended Christian services, and it seems that he 
was not even required to undertake not to do so in 
future. Only if he refused to sacrifice, was he 
punished. We cannot ask for a clearer proof that 
it is apostasy as such, denial of the gods, against 
which action is taken. It is in keeping with this 
that, at any rate under the earher Empire, no at- 
tempt was made to seek out the Christians at their 
assemblies, to hinder their services or the like ; it 
was considered sufficient to take steps when in- 
formation was laid. 


The punishments meted out were different, in 
that they were left solely to the discretion of 
the magistrates. But they were generally severe : 
forced labour in mines and capital punishment were 
quite common. No discrimination was made be- 
tween Roman citizens and others belonging to the 
Empire, but all were treated alike ; that the Roman 
citizen could not undergo capital punishment without 
appeal to the Emperor does not affect the principle. 
This procedure has really no expressly formulated 
basis in law ; the Roman penal code did not, as 
mentioned above, take cognizance of denial of the 
gods. Nevertheless, the sentences on the Christians 
were considered by the Pagans of the earlier time 
as a matter of course, the justice of which was not 
contested, and the procedure of the government 
was in principle the same under humane and con- 
scientious rulers like Trajan and Marcus Aurelius 
as under tyrants like Nero and Domitian. Here 
again it is evident how firmly rooted in the mind 
of antiquity was the conviction that denial of the 
gods was a capital offence. 

To resume what has here been set forth con- 
cerning the attitude of ancient society to atheism : 
it is, in the first place, evident that the frequently 
mentioned tolerance of polytheism was not extended 
I to those who denied its gods ; in fact, it was applied 
jonly to those who acknowledged them even if 
'they worshipped others besides. But the assertion 
of this principle of intolerance varied greatly in 
practice according to whether it was a question of 
theoretical denial of the gods — atheism in our 
sense — or practical refusal to worship the Pagan 



gods. Against atheism the community took action 
I only during a comparatively short period, and, as 
I far as we know, only in a single place. The latter 
limitation is probably explained not only by the 
defectiveness of tradition, but also by the fact that 
in Athens free-thinking made its appearance ^ bout 
'the year 400 as a general phenomenon and therefore 
attracted' the attention of the community. Apart 
from this case, the philosophical denier of God was 
left in peace all through antiquity, in the same way 
as the individual citizen was not interfered with, as 
a rule, when he, for one reason or another, refrained 
from taking part in the worship of the deities. On 
the other hand, as soon as practical refusal to be- 
lieve in the gods, apostasy from the established 
religion, assumed dangerous proportions, ruthless 
severity was exercised against it. 

The discrimination, however, made in the treat- 
ment of the theoretical and practical denial of the 
gods is certainly not due merely to consideration of 
the more or less isolated occurrence of the phe- 
nomenon ; it is rooted at the same time in the very 
nature of ancient religion. The essence of ancient 
polytheism is the worship of the gods, that is, cultus ; 
of a doctrine of divinity properly speaking, of 
theology, there were only slight rudiments, and 
there was no idea of any elaborate dogmatic system. 
Quite different attitudes were accordingly assumed 
towards the philosopher, who held his own opinions 
of the gods, but took part in the public worship like 
anybody else ; and towards the monotheist, to whom 
the whole of the Pagan worship was an abomination, 
which one should abstain from at any cost, and 


which one should prevail on others to give up for the 
sake of their own good in this life or the next. 

In the literature of antiquity we meet with 
sporadic statements to the effect that certain 
philosophers bore the epithet atheos as a sort of 
surname ; and in a few of the later authors of 
antiquity we even find lists of men — almost all of 
them philosophers — who denied the existence of 
the gods. Furthermore, we possess information 
about certain persons — these also, if Jews and 
Christians are excluded, are nearly all of them 
philosophers — having been accused of, and event- 
ually convicted of, denial of the gods ; some of 
these are not in our lists. Information of this kind 
will, as remarked above, be taken as the point of 
departure for an investigation of atheism in anti- 
quity. For practical reasons, however, it is reason- 
able to include some philosophers w^hom antiquity 
did not designate as atheists, and who did not come 
into conflict with official religion, but of whom it 
has been maintained in later times that they did 
not believe in the existence of the gods of popular 
belief. Thus we arrive at the following list, in 
which those who were denoted as atheci are italicised 
and those who were accused of impiety are marked 
with an asterisk : 





Diogenes of Apollonia. 


Hippo of Rhegium. 








*Diagoras of Melos. 





The persons are put down in chronological 
order. This order will in some measure be pre- 
served in the following survey ; but regard for the 
continuity of the tradition of the doctrine will 
entail certain deviations. It will, that is to say, be 
natural to divide the material into four groups : 
the pre-Socratic philosophy ; the Sophists ; Socrates 
and the Socratics ; Hellenistic philosophy. Each 
of these groups has a philosophical character of its 
own, and it will be seen that this character also 
makes itself felt in the relation to the gods of the 
popular belief, even though we here meet with 
phenomena of more isolated occurrence. The four 
groups must be supplemented by a fifth, a survey 
of the conditions in Imperial Rome. Atheists of 
this period are not found in our lists ; but a good 
deal of old Pagan free-thinking survives in the first 
centuries of our era, and also the epithet atheoi was 
bestowed generally on the Christians and sometimes 
on the Jews, and if only for this reason they cannot 
be altogether passed by in this survey. 


THE paganism of antiquity is based on a 
primitive religion, i.e. it is originally in 
the main homogeneous with the religions 
nowadays met with in the so-called primitive 
peoples. It underwent, however, a long process of 
evolution parallel with and conditioned by the 
development of Greek and later Roman civilisation. 
This evolution carried ancient religion far away 
from its primitive starting-point ; it produced 
numerous new formations, above all a huge system 
of anthropomorphic gods, each with a definite 
character and personality of his own. This develop- 
ment is the result of an interplay of numerous 
factors : changing social and economical conditions 
evoked the desire for new religious ideas ; the 
influence of other peoples made itself felt ; poetry 
and the fine arts contributed largely to the mould- 
ing of these ideas ; conscious reflection, too, arose 
early and modified original simplicity. But what is 
characteristic of the whole process is the fact that 
it went on continuously without breaks or sudden 
bounds. Nowhere in ancient religion, as far as we 
can trace it, did a powerful religious personality 
strike in with a radical transformation, with a 
direct rejection of old ideas and dogmatic accentua- 
tion of new ones. The result of this quiet growth 


was an exceedingly heterogeneous organism, in 
which remains of ancient, highly primitive customs 
and ideas were retained along with other elements of 
a far more advanced character. 

Such a state of things need not in itself trouble 
the general consciousness ; it is a well-established 
fact that in religion the most divergent elements 
are not incompatible. Nevertheless, among the 
Greeks, with their strong proclivity to reflective 
thought, criticism early arose against the traditional 
conceptions of the gods. The typical method of 
this criticism is that the higher conceptions of the 
gods are used against the lower. From the earliest 
times the Greek religious sense favoured absolute- 
ness of definition where the gods are concerned ; 
even in Homer they are not only eternal and happy, 
but also all-powerful and all-knowing. Correspond- 
ing expressions of a moral character are hardly 
to be found in Homer ; but as early as Hesiod and 
Solon we find, at any rate, Zeus as the representative 
of heavenly justice. With such definitions a large 
number of customs of public worship and, above all, 
a number of stories about the gods, were in violent 
contradiction ; thus we find even so old and so 
pious a poet as Pindar occasionally rejecting 
mythical stories which he thinks at variance with 
the sublime nature of the gods. This form of 
criticism of popular beliefs is continued through 
the whole of antiquity ; it is found not only in 
philosophers and philosophically educated laymen, 
but appears spontaneously in everybody of a 
reflective mind ; its best known representative in 
earlier times is Euripides. Typical of its popu- 


lar form is in the first place its casualness ; it 
is directed against details which at the moment 
attract attention, while it leaves other things 
alone which in principle are quite as offensive, 
but either not very obviously so, or else not 
relevant to the matter in hand. Secondly, it is 
naive : it takes the gods of the popular belief for 
granted essentially as they are ; it does not raise 
the crucial question whether the popular belief is not 
quite justified in attributing to these higher beings 
all kinds of imperfection, and wrong in attributing 
perfection to them, and still less if such beings, 
whether they are defined as perfect or imperfect, 
exist at all. It follows that as a whole this form of 
criticism is outside the scope of our inquiry. 

Still, there is one single personality in early 
Greek thought who seems to have proceeded still 
further on the lines of this naive criticism, namely, 
Xenophanes of Colophon. He is generally included 
amongst the philosophers, and rightly in so far as 
he initiated a philosophical speculation which was 
of the highest importance in the development 
of Greek scientific thought. But in the present 
connexion it would, nevertheless, be misleading to 
place Xenophanes among those philosophers who 
came into conflict with the popular belief because 
their conception of Existence was based on science. 
The starting-point for his criticism of the popular 
belief is in fact not philosophical, but religious ; he 
ranks with personalities like Pindar and Euripides 
— he was also a verse-writer himself, with consider- 
able poetic gift — and is only distinguished from them 
by the greater consistency of his thought. Hence, 


the correct course is to deal with him in this place 
as the only eminent thinker in antiquity about 
whom it is known that — starting from popular 
belief and religious motives — he reached a stand- 
point which at any rate with some truth may be 
designated as atheism. 

Xenophanes lived in the latter part of the sixth 
and the beginning of the fifth centuries B.C. (accord- 
ing to his own statement he reached an age of more 
than ninety years). He was an itinerant singer who 
travelled about and recited poetry, presumably 
not merely his own but also that of others. In 
his own poems he severely attacked the manner 
in which Homer and Hesiod, the most famous poets 
of Greece, had represented the gods : they had 
attributed to them everything which in man's eyes 
is outrageous and reprehensible — theft, adultery and 
deception of one another. Their accounts of the 
fights of the gods against Titans and Giants he 
denounced as " inventions of the ancients." But 
he did not stop at that : " Men believe that the 
gods are born, are clothed and shaped and speak 
like themselves" ; "if oxen and horses and lions 
could draw and paint, they would delineate their gods 
in their own image " ; " the Negroes believe that 
their gods are fiat-nosed and black, the Thracians 
that theirs have blue eyes and red hair." Thus he 
attacked directly the popular belief that the gods 
are anthropomorphic, and his arguments testify 
that he clearly realised that men create their gods 
in their own image. On another main point, too, 
he was in direct opposition to the religious ideas 
of his time : he rejected Divination, the belief that 


the gods imparted the secrets of the future to men — 
which was deemed a mainstay of the beUef in the 
existence of the gods. As a positive counterpart 
to the anthropomorphic gods, Xenophanes set up 
a philosophical conception of God: God must be 
One, Eternal, Unchangeable and identical with 
himself in every way (all sight, all hearing and all 
mind). This deity, according to the explicit state- 
ments of our earliest sources, he identified with the 

If we examine more closely the arguments put 
forth by Xenophanes in support of his remarkable 
conception of the deity, we realise that he every- 
where starts from the definitions of the nature of 
the gods as given by popular religion ; but, be it 
understood, solely from the absolute definitions. 
He takes the existence of the divine, with its absolute 
attributes, for granted ; it is in fact the basis of all 
his speculation. His criticism of the popular ideas 
of the gods is therefore closely connected with his 
philosophical conception of God ; the two are the 
positive and negative sides of the same thing. 
Altogether his connexion with what I call the naive 
criticism of the popular religion is unmistakable. 

It is undoubtedly a remarkable fact that we 
meet at this early date with such a consistent 
representative of this criticism. If we take Xeno- 
phanes at his word we must describe him as an 
atheist, and atheism in the sixth century B.C. is a 
very curious phenomenon indeed. Neither was it 
acknowledged in antiquity ; no one placed Xeno- 
phanes amongst atheoi ; and Cicero even says 
somewhere (according to Greek authority) that 


Xenophanes was the only one of those who believed 
in gods who rejected divination. In more recent 
times, too, serious doubt has been expressed whether 
Xenophanes actually denied the existence of the 
gods. Reference has amongst other things been 
made to the fact that he speaks in several places 
about " gods " where he, according to his view, 
ought to say " God " ; nay, he has even formulated 
his fundamental idea in the words : " One God, the 
greatest amongst gods and men, neither in shape nor 
mind like unto any mortal." To be sure, Xeno- 
phanes is not always consistent in his language ; 
but no weight whatever ought to be attached to 
this, least of all in the case of a man who exclusively 
expressed himself in verse. Another theory rests 
on the tradition that Xenophanes regarded his 
deity and the universe as identical, consequently 
was a pantheist. In that case, it is said, he may 
very well have considered, for instance, the heavenly 
bodies as deities. Sound as this argument is in 
general, it does not apply to this case. When a 
thinker arrives at pantheism, starting from a criti- 
cism of polytheism which is expressly based on the 
antithesis between the unity and plurality of the 
deity — then very valid proofs, indeed, are needed in 
order to justify the assumption that he after all 
believed in a plurality of gods ; and such proofs are 
wanting in the case of Xenophanes. 

Judging from the material in hand one can hardly 
arrive at any other conclusion than that the stand- 
point of Xenophanes comes under our definition of 
atheism. But we must not forget that only frag- 
ments of his writings have been preserved, and that 


the more extensive of them do not assist us 
greatly to the understanding of his rehgious stand- 
point. It is possible that we might have arrived 
at a different conclusion had we but possessed his 
chief philosophical work in its entirety, or at least 
larger portions of it. And I must candidly confess 
that if I were asked whether, in my heart of hearts, 
I believed that a Greek of the sixth century B.C. 
denied point-blank the existence of his gods, my 
answer would be in the negative. 

That Xenophanes was not considered an atheist 
by the ancients may possibly be explained by the 
fact that they objected to fasten this designation on 
a man whose reasoning took the deity as a starting- 
point and whose sole aim was to define its nature. 
Perhaps they also had an inkling that he in reality 
stood on the ground of popular belief, even if he 
went beyond it. Still more curious is the fact that 
his religious view does not seem to have influenced 
the immediately succeeding philosophy at all. His 
successors, Parmenides and Zeno, developed his 
doctrine of unity, but in a pantheistic direction, 
and on a logical, not religious line of argument ; 
about their attitude to popular belief we are told 
practically nothing. And Ionic speculation took a 
quite different direction. Not till a century later, 
in Euripides, do we observe a distinct influence of 
his criticism of popular belief ; but at that time other 
currents of opinion had intervened which are not 
dependent on Xenophanes, but might direct atten- 
tion to him. 


ANCIENT Greek naturalism is essentially 
calculated to collide with the popular 
belief. It seeks a natural explanation of 
the world, first and foremost of its origin, but in 
the next place of individual natural phenomena. 
As to the genesis of the world, speculations of a 
mythical kind had already developed on the basis 
of the popular belief. They were not, however, 
binding on anybody, and, above all, the idea of the 
gods having created the world was altogether alien 
to Greek religion. Thus, without offence to them 
it might be maintained that everything originated 
from a primary substance or from a mixture of 
several primary substances, as was generally main- 
tained by the ancient naturalists. On the other 
hand, a conflict arose as soon as the heavenly 
phenomena, such as lightning and thunder, were 
ascribed to natural causes, or when the heavenly 
bodies were made out to be natural objects ; for to 
the Greeks it was an established fact that Zeus sent 
lightning and thunder, and that the sun and the 
moon were gods. A refusal to believe in the latter 
was especially dangerous because they were visible 
gods, and as to the person who did not believe in 
their divinity the obvious conclusion would be that 
he believed still less in the invisible gods. 


That this inference was drawn will appear before 
long. But the epithet " atheist " was very rarely- 
attached to the ancient naturalists ; only a few of 
the later (and those the least important) were given 
the nickname atheos. Altogether we hear very 
little of the relation of these philosophers to the 
popular belief, and this very silence is surely signifi- 
cant. No doubt, most of them bestowed but a 
scant attention on this aspect of the matter ; they 
were engrossed in speculations which did not bring 
them into conflict with the popular belief, and even 
their scientific treatment of the " divine " natural 
phenomena did not make them doubt the existence 
of the gods. This is connected with a peculiarity in 
their conception of existence. Tradition tells us 
of several of them, and it applies presumably also 
to those of whom it is not recorded, that they 
designated their primary substance or substances 
as gods ; sometimes they also applied this designa- 
tion to the world or worlds originating in the primary 
substance. This view is deeply rooted in the Greek 
popular belief and harmonises with its fundamental 
view of existence. To these ancient thinkers the 
primary substance is at once a living and a super- 
human power ; and any living power which tran- 
scended that of man was divine to the Greeks. 
Hylozoism (the theory that matter is alive) con- 
sequently, when it allies itself with popular belief, 
leads straight to pantheism, whereas it excludes 
monotheism, which presupposes a distinction be- 
tween god and matter. Now it is a matter of ex- 
perience that, while monotheism is the hereditary 
foe of polytheism, polytheism and pantheism go 


very well together. The universe being divine, 
there is no reason to doubt that beings of a higher 
order than man exist, nor any reason to refuse to 
bestow on them the predicate " divine " ; and with 
this we find ourselves in principle on the standpoint 
of polytheistic popular belief. There is nothing 
surprising, then, in the tradition that Thales 
identified God with the mind of the universe and 
believed the universe to be animated, and filled with 
" demons." The first statement is in this form 
probably influenced by later ideas and hardly a 
correct expression of the view of Thales ; the rest 
bears the very stamp of genuineness, and similar 
ideas recur, more or less completely and variously 
refracted, in the succeeding philosophers. 

To follow these variations in detail is outside the 
scope of this investigation ; but it may be of interest 
to see the form they take in one of the latest and 
most advanced representatives of Ionian naturalism. 
In Democritus's conception of the unjverse, personal 
gods would seem excluded a priori. He works with 
but three premises : the atoms, their movements, 
and empty space. From this everything is derived 
according to strict causality. Such phenomena 
also as thunder and lightning, comets and eclipses, 
which were generally ascribed to the gods, are 
according to his opinion due to natural causes, 
whereas people in the olden days were afraid of them 
because they believed they were due to the gods. 
Nevertheless, he seems, in the first place, to have 
designated Fire, which he at the same time recog- 
nised as a " soul-substance," as divine, the cosmic 
fire being the soul of the world; and secondly. 


he thought that there was something real under- 
lying the popular conception of the gods. He 
was led to this from a consideration of dreams, 
which he thought were images of real objects which 
entered into the sleeper through the pores of the 
body. Now, since gods might be seen in dreams, 
they must be real beings. He did actually say that 
»the gods had more senses than the ordinary five, 
when he who of all the Greek philosophers went 
furthest in a purely mechanical conception of 
nature took up such an attitude to the religion of 
his people, one cannot expect the others, who were 
less advanced, to discard it. 

Nevertheless, there is a certain probability 
that some of the later Ionian naturalists went 
further in their criticism of the gods of popular 
belief. One of them actually came into conflict 
with popular, religion ; it will be natural to begin 
with him. 

Shortly before the outbreak of the Pelopon- 
nesian War, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was accused 
of impiety and had to leave Athens, where he had 
taken up his abode. The object of the accusation 
was in reality political ; the idea being to hit Pericles 
through his friend the naturalist. What Anaxa- 
goras was charged with was that he had assumed 
that the heavenly bodies were natural objects ; he 
had taught that the sun was a red-hot mass, and 
that the moon was earth and larger than Pelopon- 
nese. To base an accusation of impiety on this, it 
was necessary first to carry a public resolution, 
giving power to prosecute those who gave natural 
explanations of heavenly phenomena. 


As to Anaxagoras's attitude to popular belief, we 
hear next to nothing apart from this. There is a 
story of a ram's head being found with one horn in 
the middle of the forehead ; it was brought to 
Pericles, and the soothsayer Lampon explained the 
portent to the effect that, of the two men, Pericles 
and Thucydides, who contended for the leadership 
of Athens, one should prove victorious. Anaxa- 
goras, on the other hand, had the ram's head cut 
open and showed that the brain did not fill up the 
cranium, but was egg-shaped and lay gathered 
together at the point where the horn grew out. 
He evidently thought that abortions also, which 
otherwise were generally considered as signs from 
the gods, were due to natural causes. Beyond this, 
nothing is said of any attack on the popular belief 
on the part of Anaxagoras, and in his philosophy 
nothing occurred which logically entailed a denial of 
the existence of the gods. Add to this that it was 
necessary to create a new judicial basis for the 
accusation against Anaxagoras, and it can be taken 
as certain that neither in his writings nor in any 
other way did he come forward in public as a denier 
of the gods. 

It is somewhat different when we consider the 
purely personal point of view of Anaxagoras. The 
very fact that no expression of his opinion concern- 
ing the gods has been transmitted affords food for 
thought. Presumably there was none ; but this 
very fact is notable when we bear in mind that 
the earlier naturalists show no such reticence. Add 
to this that, if there is any place and any time in 
which we might expect a complete emancipation 


from popular belief, combined with a decided dis- 
inclination to give expression to it, it is Athens^ 
under Pericles. Men like Pericles and his friends] 
represent a high level, perhaps the zenith, in Hellenic 
culture. That they were critical of many of the 
religious conceptions of their time we may take for 
granted ; as to Pericles himself, this is actually 
stated as a fact, and the accusations of impiety 
directed against Aspasia and Pheidias prove that 
orthodox circles were very well aware of it.. 
But the accusations prove, moreover, that Pericles! 
and those who shared his views were so much in y 
advance of their time that they could not afford 
to let their free-thinking attitude become a matter 
of public knowledge without endangering their 
political position certainly, and possibly even more 
than that. To be sure, considerations of that kind 
did not weigh with Anaxagoras ; but he was — and 
that we know on good authority — a quiet scholar 
whose ideal of life was to devote himself to problems 
of natural science, and he can hardly have wished 
to be disturbed in this occupation by affairs in which 
he took no sort of interest. The question is then 
only how far men like Pericles and himself may have 
ventured in their criticism. Though all direct 
tradition is wanting, we have at any rate circum- 
stantial evidence possessing a certain degree of 

To begin with, the attempt to give a natural 
explanation of prodigies is not in itself without 
interest. The mantic art, i.e. the ability to predict 
the future by signs from the gods or direct divine 
inspiration, was throughout antiquity considered 


one of the surest proofs of the existence of the gods. 
Now, it by no means follows that a person who was 
not impressed by a deformed ram's head would 
deny, e.g., the ability of the Delphic Oracle to pre- 
dict the future, especially not so when the person 
in question was a naturalist. But that there was 
at this time a general tendency to reject the art of 
divination is evident from the fact that Herodotus as 
well as %)phocles, both of them contemporaries of 
Pericles and Anaxagoras, expressly contend against 
attempts in that direction, and, be it remarked, 
as if the theory they attack was commonly held. 
Sophocles is in this connexion so far the more 
interesting of the two, as, on one hand, he criticises 
private divination but defends the Delphic oracle 
vigorously, while he, on the other hand, identifies 
denial of the oracle with denial of the gods. And 
he does this in such a way as to make it evident 
that he has a definite object in mind. That in 
this polemic he may have been aiming precisely 
at Anaxagoras is indicated by the fact that Dio- 
peithes, who carried the resolution concerning the 
accusation of the philosopher, was a soothsayer by 

The strongest evidence as to the free-thinking of 
the Periclean age is, however, to be met with in 
the historical writing of Thucydides. In his work 
on the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides completely 
eliminated the supernatural element ; not only did 
he throughout ignore omens and divinations, except 
in so far as they played a part as a psychological 
factor, but he also completely omitted any reference 
to the gods in his narrative. Such a procedure was 


at this time unprecedented, and contrasts sharply 
with that of his immediate forerunner Herodotus, 
who constantly lays stress on the intervention of the 
gods. That is hardly conceivable except in a man 
who had altogether emancipated himself from the 
religious views of his time. Now, Thucydides is not 
only a fellow-countr3^man and younger contem-' 
porary of Pericles, but he also sees in Pericles his 
ideal not only as a politician but evidently also as a 
man. Hence, when everything is considered, it is 
not improbable that Pericles and his friends went 
to all lengths in their criticism of popular belief, 
although, of course, it remains impossible to state 
anything definite as to particular persons* in- 
dividual views. Curiously enough, even in anti- 
quity this connexion was observed ; in a biography 
of Thucydides it is said that he was a disciple of 
Anaxagoras and accordingly was also considered 
something of an atheist. 

While Anaxagoras, his trial notwithstanding, 
is not generally designated an atheist, probably 
because there was nothing in his writings to which 
he might be pinned down, that fate befel two of his 
contemporaries. Hippo of Rhegium and Diogenes of 
ApoUonia. Very little, however, is known of them. 
Hippo, who is said to have been a Pythagorean, 
taught that water and fire were the origin of every- 
thing ; as to the reason why he earned the nick- 
name atheos, it is said that he taught that Water was 
the primal cause of all, as well as that he maintained 
that nothing existed but what could be perceived by 
the senses. There is also quoted a (fictitious) inscrip- 
tion, which he is said to have caused to be put on his 


tomb, to the effect that Death has made him the 
equal of the immortal gods (in that he now exists 
no more than they). Otherwise we know nothing 
special of Hippo ; Aristotle refers to him as shallow. 
As to Diogenes, we learn that he was influenced 
by Anaximenes and Anaxagoras ; in agreement with 
the former he regarded Air as the primary substance, 
and like Anaxagoras he attributed reason to his 
primary substance. Of his doctrine we have ex- 
tensive accounts, and also some not inconsider- 
able fragments of his treatise On Nature ; but 
they are almost all of them of purely scientific, 
mostly of an anatomical and physiological character. 
In especial, as to his relation to popular belief, it is 
recorded that he identified Zeus with the air. In- 
directly, however, we are able to demonstrate, by 
the aid of an almost contemporary witness, that 
there must have been some foundation for the 
accusation of " atheism." For in The Clouds, where 
Aristophanes wants to represent Socrates as an 
atheist, he puts in his mouth scraps of the naturalism 
of Diogenes ; that he would hardly have done, if 
Diogenes had not already been decried as an 

It is of course impossible to base any statement 
of the relation of the two philosophers to popular 
belief on such a foundation. But it is, nevertheless, 
worth noticing that while not a single one of the 
earlier naturalists acquired the designation atheist, 
it was applied to two of the latest and otherwise 
little-known representatives of the school. Take 
this in combination with what has been said above 
of Anaxagoras, and we get at any rate a suspicion 


that Greek naturalism gradually led its adherents 
beyond the naive stage where many individual 
phenomena were indeed ascribed to natural causes, 
even if they had formerly been regarded as caused 
by divine intervention, but where the foundations 
of the popular belief were left untouched. Once 
this path has been entered on, a point will be 
arrived at where the final conclusion is drawn and 
the existence of the supernatural completely denied. 
It is probable that this happened towards the close 
of the naturalistic period. If so early a philosopher 
as Anaxagoras took this point of view, his personal 
contribution as a member of the Periclean circle 
may have been more significant in the religious field 
than one would conjecture from the character of his 

Before we proceed to mention the sophists, there 
is one person on our list who must be examined 
though the result will be negative, namely, Diagoras 
of Melos. As he appears in our records, he falls 
outside the classification adopted here ; but as he 
must have lived, at any rate, about the middle 
of the fifth century (he is said to have " flourished " 
in 464) he may most fitly be placed on the 
boundary line between the Ionian philosophy and 

For later antiquity Diagoras is the typical 
atheist ; he heads our lists of atheists, and round 
his person a whole series of myths have been formed. 
He is said to have been a poet and a pious man like 
others ; but then a colleague once stole an ode from 
him, escaped by taking an oath that he was innocent, 
and afterwards made a hit with the stolen work. 


So Diagoras lost his faith in the gods and wrote a 
treatise under the title of apopyrgizontes logoi 
(literally, destructive considerations) in which he 
attacked the belief in the gods. 

This looks very plausible, and is interesting in 
so far as it, if correct, affords an instance of atheism 
arising in a layman from actual experience, not in a 
philosopher from speculation. If we ask, however, 
what is known historically about Diagoras, we are 
told a different tale. There existed in Athens, 
engraved on a bronze tablet and set up on the 
Acropolis, a decree of the people offering a reward 
of one talent to him who should kill Diagoras of 
Melos, and of two talents to him who should bring 
him alive to Athens. The reason given was that he 
had scoffed at the Eleusinian Mysteries and divulged 
what took place at them. The date of this decree 
is given by a historian as 415 B.C. ; that this is 
correct is seen from a passage in Aristophanes's con- 
temporary drama. The Birds. Furthermore, one of 
the disciples of Aristotle, the literary historian 
Aristoxenus, states that no trace of impiety was 
to be found in the works of the dithyrambic poet 
Diagoras, and that, in fact, they contained definite 
opinions to the contrary. A remark to the effect 
that Diagoras was instrumental in drawing up the 
laws of Mantinea is probably due to the same 
source. The context shows that the reference is 
to the earlier constitution of Mantinea, which 
was a mixture of aristocracy and democracy, and 
is praised for its excellence. It is inconceivable 
that, in a Peloponnesian city during the course 
of, nay, presumably even before the middle of 


the fifth century, a notorious atheist should 
have been invited to advise on the revision of its 
constitution. It is more probable that Aristoxenus 
adduced this fact as an additional disproof of 
Diagoras's atheism, in which he evidently did not 

The above information explains the origin of 
the legend. Two fixed points were in existence : 
the pious poet of c. 460 and the atheist who was 
outlawed in 415 ; a bridge was constructed between 
them by the story of the stolen ode. This disposes 
of the whole supposition of atheism growing out of 
a basis of experience. But, furthermore, it must be 
admitted that it is doubtful whether the poet and 
the atheist are one and the same person. The 
interval of time between them is itself suspicious, 
for the poet, according to the ancient system of 
calculation, must have been about forty years old 
in 464, consequently between eighty and ninety in 
415. (There is general agreement that the treatise, 
the title of which has been quoted, must have been 
a later forgery.) If, in spite of all, I dare not abso- 
lutely deny the identity of the two Diagorases of 
tradition, the reason is that Aristophanes, where he 
mentions the decree concerning Diagoras, seems to 
suggest that his attack on the Mysteries was an 
old story which was raked up again in 415. But 
for our purpose, at any rate, nothing remains of the 
copious mass of legend but the fact that one 
Diagoras of Melos in 415 was outlawed in Athens on 
the ground of his attack on the Mysteries. Such an 
attack may have been the outcome of atheism ; 
there was no lack of impiety in Athens at the end 


of the fifth century. But whether this was the case 
or not we cannot possibly tell ; and to throw light 
on free-thinking tendencies in Athens at this time, 
we have other and richer sources than the historical 
notice of Diagoras. 


WITH the movement in Greek thought which 
is generally known as sophistic, a new 
view of popular belief appears. The 
criticism of the sophists was directed against the 
entire tradition on which Greek society was based, 
and principally against the moral conceptions which 
hitherto had been unquestioned : good and evil, 
right and wrong. The criticism was essentially 
negative ; that which hitherto had been imagined 
as absolute was demonstrated to be relative, and 
the relative was identified with the invalid. Thus 
they could not help running up against the popular 
ideas of the gods, and treating them in the same 
way. A leading part was here played by the 
sophistic distinction between nomos and physis, 
Law and Nature, i.e. that which is based on human 
convention, and that which is founded on the nature 
of things. The sophists could not help seeing that 
the whole public worship and the ideas associated 
with it belonged to the former — to the domain of 
" the law." Not only did the worship and the 
conceptions of the gods vary from place to place in 
the hundreds of small independent communities into 
which Hellas was divided — a fact which the sophists 
had special opportunity of observing when travel- 
ling from town to town to teach ; but it was even 



officially admitted that the whole ritual — which, 
popularly speaking, was almost identical with 
religion — was based on convention. If a Greek 
was asked why a god was to be worshipped in such 
and such a way, generally the only answer was : 
because it is the law of the State (or the convention ; 
the word nomos expresses both things). Hence it 
followed in principle that religion came under the 
domain of " the law," being consequently the work 
of man ; and hence again the obvious conclusion, 
according to sophistic reasoning, was that it was 
nothing but human imagination, and that there was 
no physis, no reality, behind it at all. In the case of 
the naturalists, it was the positive foundation of their 
system, their conception of nature as a whole, that 
led them to criticise the popular belief. Hence their 
criticism was in the main only directed against those 
particular ideas in the popular belief which were at 
variance with the results of their investigations. To 
be sure, the sophists were not above making use of 
the results of natural science in their criticism of the 
popular belief ; it was their general aim to impart 
the highest education of their time, and of a liberal 
education natural science formed a rather important 
part. But their starting-point was quite different 
from that of the naturalists. Their whole interest 
was concentrated on man as a member of the 
community, and it was from consideration of this 
relation that they were brought into collision with 
the established religion. Hence their attack was 
far more dangerous than that of the naturalists ; 
no longer was it directed against details, it laid bare 
the psychological basis itself of popular belief and 


clearly revealed its unstable character. Their criti- 
cism was fundamental and central, not casual and 

From a purely practical point of view also, the 
criticism of the sophists was far more dangerous 
than that of the old philosophers. They were not 
theorists themselves, but practitioners ; their 
business was to impart the higher education to the 
more mature youth. It was therefore part of their 
profession to disseminate their views not by means 
of learned professional writings, but by the per- 
suasive eloquence of oral discourse. And in their 
criticism of the existing state of things they did not 
start with special results which only science could 
prove, and the correctness of which the layman 
need not recognise ; they operated with facts and 
principles known and acknowledged by everybody. 
It is not to be wondered at that such efforts evoked 
a vigorous reaction on the part of established society, 
the more so as in any case the result of sophistic 
criticism — though not consciously its object — was 
to liquefy the moral principles on which the social 
order was based. 

Such, in principle, appeared to be the state of 
things. In practice, here as elsewhere, the devil 
proved not so black as he was painted. First, not 
all the sophists — hardly even the majority of them 
— drew the logical conclusions from their views in 
respect of either morals or religion. They were 
teachers of rhetoric, and as such they taught, for 
instance, all the tricks by which a bad cause might be 
defended ; that was part of the trade. But it must 
be supposed that Gorgias, the most distinguished of 




them, expressly insisted that rhetoric, just like any 
other art the aim of which was to defeat an opponent, 
should only be used for good ends. Similarly many of 
them may have stopped short in their criticism of 
popular belief at some arbitrary point, so that it was 
possible for them to respect at any rate something 
of the established religion, and so, of course, first 
and foremost the very belief in the existence of 
the gods. That they did not as a rule interfere 
with public worship, we may be sure ; that was 
based firmly on " the Law." But, in addition, even 
sophists who personally took an attitude radically 
contradictory to popular belief had the most 
important reasons for being careful in advancing 
such a view. They had to live by being the teachers 
of youth ; they had no fixed appointment, they 
travelled about as lecturers and enlisted disciples 
by means of their lectures. For such men it would 
have been a very serious thing to attack the estab- 
lished order in its tenderest place, religion, and 
above all they had to beware of coming into conflict 
with the penal laws. This risk they did not incur 
while confining themselves to theoretical discussions 
about right and wrong, nor by the practical applica- 
tion of them in their teaching of rhetoric ; but they 
might very easily incur it if attacking religion. 

This being the case, it is not to be wondered at 
that we do not find many direct statements of 
undoubtedly atheistical character handed down from 
the more eminent sophists, and that trials for 
impiety are rare in their case. But, nevertheless, 
a few such cases are met with, and from these as 
our starting-point we will now proceed. 


As to Protagoras of Abdera, one of the earliest 
and most famous of all the sophists, it is stated that 
he began a pamphlet treating of the gods with the 
words : " Concerning the gods I can say nothing, 
neither that they exist nor that they do not exist, 
nor of what form they are ; because there are many 
things which prevent one from knowing that, 
namely, both the uncertainty of the matter and the 
shortness of man's life." On this account, it is said, 
he was charged with impiety at Athens and was 
outlawed, and his works were publicly burned. The 
date of this trial is not known for certain ; but it is 
reasonably supposed to have coincided with that of 
Diagoras, namely, in 415. At any rate it must have 
taken place after 423-421, as we know that Prota- 
goras was at that time staying in Athens. As he 
must have been born about 485, the charge over- 
took him when old and famous ; according to one 
account, his work on the gods seems to belong to his 
earlier writings. 

To doubt the correctness of this tradition would 
require stronger reasons than we possess, although 
it is rather strange that the condemnation of 
Protagoras is mentioned neither in our historical 
sources nor in Aristophanes, and that Plato, who 
mentions Protagoras rather frequently as dead, 
never alludes to it. At any rate, the quotation 
from the work on the gods is certainly authentic, 
for Plato himself referred to it. Hence it is 
certain that Protagoras directly stated the problem 
as to the existence of the gods and regarded it as an 
open question. But beyond that nothing much 
can be deduced from the short quotation ; and as 


to the rest of the book on the gods we know nothing. 
The meagre reasons for scepticism adduced prob- 
ably do not imply any more than that the diffi- 
culties are objective as well as subjective. If, in 
the latter respect, the brevity of life is specially men- 
tioned it may be supposed that Protagoras had in 
mind a definite proof of the existence of the 
gods which was rendered difficult by the fact 
that life is so brief ; prediction of the future 
may be guessed at, but nothing certain can be 

Protagoras is the only one of the sophists of 
whom tradition says that he was the object of per- 
secution owing to his religious views. The trial of 
Socrates, however, really belongs to the same cate- 
gory when looked at from the accusers' point of 
view ; Socrates was accused as a sophist. But as 
his own attitude towards popular religion differed 
essentially from that of the sophists, we cannot con- 
sider him in this connexion. Protagoras's trial 
itself is partly determined by special circumstances. 
In all probability it took jjlace at a moment when 
a violent religious reaction had set in at Athens 
owing to some grave offences against the public 
worship and sanctuaries of the State (violation of 
the Mysteries and mutilation of the Hermae). The 
work on the gods had presumably been in existence 
and known long before this without causing scandal 
to anybody. But, nevertheless, the trial, like those 
of Anaxagoras and Socrates, plainly bears witness 
to the animosity with which the modern free- 
thought was regarded in Athens. This animosity 
did not easily manifest itself publicly without 


special reasons ; but it was always there and might 
always be used in case of provocation. 

As to Protagoras's personal attitude to the 
question of the existence of the gods, much may be 
guessed and much has been guessed ; but nothing 
can be stated for certain. However, judging from 
the man's profession and his general habit of life 
as it appears in tradition, we may take for granted 
that he did not give offence in his outward behaviour 
by taking a hostile attitude to public worship or 
attacking its foundations ; had that been so, he would 
not for forty years have been the most distinguished 
teacher of Hellas, but would simply not have been 
tolerated. An eminent modern scholar has there- 
fore advanced the conjecture that Protagoras 
distinguished between belief and knowledge, and 
that his work on the gods only aimed at showing 
that the existence of the gods could not be scien- 
tifically demonstrated. Now such a distinction 
probably, if conceived as a conscious principle, 
is alien to ancient thought, at any rate at the 
time of Protagoras ; and yet it may contain a 
grain of truth. When it is borne in mind that the 
incriminated passage represents the very exordium 
of the work of Protagoras, the impression cannot be 
avoided that he himself did not intend his work to 
disturb the established religion, but that he quite 
naively took up the existence of the gods as a sub- 
ject, as good as any other, for dialectic discussion. 
All that he was concerned with was theory and 
theorising ; religion was practice and ritual ; and 
he had no more intention of interfering with that 
than the other earlier sophists of assailing the legal 


system of the community in their speculation as to 
relativity of right and wrong. 

All this, however, does not alter the fact that the 
work of Protagoras posed the very question of 
the existence of the gods as a problem which might 
possibly be solved in the negative. He seems to 
have been the first to do this. That it could be 
done is significant of the age to which Protagoras 
belongs ; that it was done was undoubtedly of 
great importance for the development of thought in 
wide circles. 

Prodicus of Ceos, also one of the most famous 
sophists, advanced the idea that the concep- 
tions of the gods were originally associated with 
those things which were of use to humanity : sun 
and moon, rivers and springs, the products of the 
earth and the elements ; therefore bread was 
identified with Demeter, wine with Dionysus, water 
with Poseidon, fire with Hephaestus. As a special 
instance he mentioned the worship of the Nile by 
the Egyptians. 

In Democritus, who was a slightly elder con- 
temporary of Prodicus, we have already met with 
investigation into the origin of the conceptions of 
the gods. There is a close parallel between his 
handling of the subject and that of Prodicus, but 
at the same time a characteristic difference. Demo- 
critus was a naturalist, hence he took as his starting- 
point the natural phenomena commonly ascribed to 
the influence of the gods. Prodicus, on the other 
hand, started from the intellectual life of man. We 
learn that he had commenced to study synonyms, 
and that he was interested in the interpretation of 


the poets. Now he found that Homer occasionally 
simply substituted the name of Hephaestus for fire, 
and that other poets went even further on the same 
lines. Furthermore, while it was common know- 
ledge to every Greek that certain natural objects, 
such as the heavenly bodies and the rivers, were 
regarded as divine and had names in common with 
their gods, this to Prodicus would be a specially 
attractive subject for speculation. It is plainly 
shown by his instances that it is linguistic observa- 
tions of this kind which were the starting-point of 
his theory concerning the origin of the conceptions 
of the gods. 

In the accounts of Prodicus it is taken for granted 
that he denied the existence of the gods, and in 
later times he is classed as atheos. Nevertheless 
we have every reason to doubt the correctness of 
this opinion. The case of Democritus already shows 
that a philosopher might very well derive the con- 
ceptions of the gods from an incorrect interpretation 
of certain phenomena without throwing doubt on 
their existence. As far as Prodicus is concerned it 
may be assumed that he did not believe that Bread, 
Wine or Fire were gods, any more than Democritus 
imagined that Zeus sent thunder and lightning ; 
nor, presumably, did he ever believe that rivers 
were gods. But he need not therefore have denied 
the existence of Demeter, Dionysus and Hephaestus, 
much less the divinity of the sun and the moon. 
And if we consider his theory more closely it points 
in quite a different direction from that of atheism. 
To Prodicus it was evidently the conception of 
utility that mattered : if these objects came to be 


regarded as gods it was because they "benefited 
humanity." This too is a genuinety sophistic 
view, characteristically deviating from that of the 
naturalist Democritus in its limitation to the 
human and social aspect of the question. Such a 
point of view, if confronted with the question of the 
existence of the gods, may very well, according to 
sophistic methods of reasoning, lead to the con- 
clusion that primitive man was right in so far as 
the useful, i.e. that which " benefits humanity," 
really is an essential feature of the gods, and wrong 
only in so far as he identified the individual useful 
objects with the gods. Whether Prodicus adopted 
this point of view, we cannot possibly tell ; but 
the general body of tradition concerning the man, 
which does not in any way suggest religious radi- 
calism, indicates as most probable that he did not 
connect the question of the origin of the conceptions 
of the gods with that of the existence of the gods, 
which to him was taken for granted, and that it was 
only later philosophers who, in their researches into 
the ideas of earlier philosophers about the gods, 
inferred his atheism from his speculations on the 
history of religion. 

Critias, the well-known reactionary politician, 
the chief of the Thirty Tyrants, is placed amongst 
the atheists on the strength of a passage in a satyric 
drama, Sisyphus. The drama is lost, but our 
authority quotes the objectionable passage in 
extenso ; it is a piece of no less than forty lines. 
The passage argues that human life in its origins 
knew no social order, that might ruled supreme. 
Then men conceived the idea of making laws in 


order that right might rule instead of might. The 
result of this was, it is true, that wrong was not done 
openly ; but it was done secretly instead. Then a 
wise man bethought himself of making men believe 
that there existed gods who saw and heard every- 
thing which men did, nay even knew their inner- 
most thoughts. And, in order that men might stand 
in proper awe of the gods, he said that they lived in 
the sky, out of which comes that which makes men 
afraid, such as lightning and thunder, but also that 
which benefits them, sunshine and rain, and the 
stars, those fair ornaments by whose course men 
measure time. Thus he succeeded in bringing law- 
lessness to an end. It is expressly stated that it 
was all a cunning fraud : "by such talk he made 
his teaching most acceptable, veiling truth with 
false words." 

In antiquity it was disputed whether the drama 
Sisyphus was by Critias or Euripides ; nowadays all 
agree in attributing it to Critias ; nor does the style 
of the long fragment resemble that of Euripides. 
The question is, however, of no consequence in this 
connexion : whether the drama is by Critias or 
Euripides it is wrong to attribute to an author 
opinions which he has put into the mouth of a char- 
acter in a drama. Moreover, Sisyphus was a satyric 
play, i.e. it belonged to a class of poetry the liberty of 
which was nearly as great as in comedy, and the 
speech was delivered by Sisyphus himself, who, 
according to the legend, is a type of the crafty 
criminal whose forte is to do evil and elude punish- 
ment. There is, in fact, nothing in that which we 
otherwise hear of Critias to suggest that he cherished 


free- thinking views. He was — or in his later years 
became — a fanatical adversary of the Attic demo- 
cracy, and he was, when he held power, unscrupulous 
in his choice of the means with which he opposed 
it and the men who stood in the path of his reaction- 
ary policy ; but in our earlier sources he is never 
accused of impiety in the theoretical sense. And 
yet there had been an excellent opportunity of 
bringing forward such an accusation ; for in his 
youth Critias had been a companion of Socrates, 
and his later conduct was used as a proof that 
Socrates corrupted his surroundings. But it is 
always Critias's political crimes which are adduced 
in this connexion, not his irreligion. On the other 
hand, posterity looked upon him as the pure type of 
tyrant, and the label atheist therefore suggested 
itself on the slightest provocation. 

But, even if the Sisyphus fragment cannot be 
used to characterise its author as an atheist, it is, 
nevertheless, of the greatest interest in this con- 
nexion, and therefore demands closer analysis. 

The introductory idea, that mankind has 
evolved from an animal state into higher stages, 
is at variance with the earlier Greek conception, 
namely, that history begins with a golden age 
from which there is a continual decline. The theory 
of the fragment is expressed by a series of authors 
from the same and the immediately succeeding 
period. It occurs in Euripides ; a later and other- 
wise little-known tragedian, Moschion, developed 
it in detail in a still extant fragment ; Plato 
accepted it and made it the basis of his presentation 
of the origin of the State ; Aristotle takes it for 


granted. Its source, too, has been demonstrated : 
it was presumably Democritus who first advanced 
it. Nevertheless the author of the fragment has 
hardly got it direct from Democritus, who at this 
time was little known at Athens, but from an 
intermediary. This intermediary is probably Pro- 
tagoras, of whom it is said that he composed a 
treatise, The Original State, i.e. the primary state of 
mankind. Protagoras was a fellow-townsman of 
Democritus, and recorded by tradition as one of his 
direct disciples. 

In another point also the fragment seems to 
betray the influence of Democritus. When it is 
said that the wise inventors of the gods made them 
dwell in the skies, because from the skies come 
those natural phenomena which frighten men, it is 
highly suggestive of Democritus's criticism of the 
divine explanation of thunder and lightning and the 
like. In this case also Protagoras may have been 
the intermediary. In his work on the gods he had 
every opportunity of discussing the question in 
detail. But here we have the theory of Democritus 
combined with that of Prodicus in that it is main- 
tained that from the skies come also those things 
that benefit men, and that they are on this account 
also a suitable dwelling-place for the gods. It is 
obvious that the author of the fragment (or his 
source) was versed in the most modern wisdom. 

All this erudition, however, is made to serve 
a certain tendency : the well-known tendency to 
represent religion as a political invention having 
as its object the policing of society. It is a theory 
which in antiquity — to its honour be it said — is but 


of rare occurrence. There is a vague indication of 
it in Euripides, a more definite one in Aristotle, and 
an elaborate application of it in Polybius ; and that 
is in reality all. (That many people in more en- 
lightened ages upheld religion as a means of keeping 
the masses in check, is a different matter.) How- 
ever, it is an interesting fact that the Critias frag- 
ment is not only the first evidence of the existence 
of the theory known to us, but also presumably the 
earliest and probably the best known to later anti- 
quity. Otherwise we should not find reference for 
the theory made to a fragment of a farce, but to a 
quotation f^om a philosopher. 

This might lead us to conclude that the theory 
was Critias's own invention, though, of course, it 
would not follow that he himself adhered to it. 
But it is more probable that it was a ready-made 
modern theory which Critias put into the mouth 
of Sisyphus. Not only does the whole character 
of the fragment and its scene of action favour this 
supposition, but there is also another factor which 
corroborates it. 

In the Gorgias Plato makes one of the characters, 
Callicles — a man of whom we otherwise know 
nothing — profess a doctrine which up to a certain 
point is almost identical with that of the fragment. 
According to Callicles, the natural state (and the 
right state ; on this point he is at variance with the 
fragment) is that right belongs to the strong. This 
state has been corrupted by legislation ; the laws 
are inventions of the weak, who are also the majority, 
and their aim is to hinder the encroachment of the 
strong. If this theory is carried to its conclusion, 


it is obvious that religion must be added to the 
laws ; if the former is not also regarded as an 
invention for the policing of society, the whole 
theory is upset. Now in the Gorgias the question 
as to the attitude of the gods towards the problem of 
what is right and what is wrong is carefully avoided 
in the discussion. Not till the close of the dialogue, 
where Plato substitutes myth for scientific research, 
does he draw the conclusion in respect of religion. 
He does this in a positive form, as a consequence 
of his point of view : after death the gods reward 
the just and punish the unjust ; but he expressly 
assumes that Callicles will regard it all as an old 
wives' tale. 

In Callicles an attempt has been made to see a 
pseudonym for Critias. That is certainly wrong. 
Critias was a kinsman of Plato, is introduced by 
name in several dialogues, nay, one dialogue even 
bears his name, and he is everywhere treated with 
respect and sympathy. Nowadays, therefore, it is 
generally acknowledged that Callicles is a real 
person, merely unknown to us as such. However 
that may be, Plato would never have let a leading 
character in one of his longer dialogues advance 
(and Socrates refute) a view which had no better 
authority than a passage in a satyric drama. On 
the other hand, there is, as shown above, difficulty 
in supposing that the doctrine of the fragment was 
stated in the writings of an eminent sophist ; so we 
come to the conclusion that it was developed and 
diffused in sophistic circles by oral teaching, and 
that it became known to Critias and Plato in this 
way. Its originator we do not know. We might 



think of the sophist Thrasymachus, who in the first 
book of Plato's Republic maintains a point of view 
corresponding to that of Callicles in Gorgias. But 
what we otherwise learn of Thrasymachus is not 
suggestive of interest in religion, and the only state- 
ment of his as to that kind of thing which has come 
down to us tends to the denial of a providence, not 
denial of the gods. Quite recently Diagoras of 
Melos has been guessed at ; this is empty talk, 
resulting at best in substituting x (or NN) for y. 

If I have dwelt in such detail on the Sisyphus 
fragment, it is because it is our first direct and 
unmistakable evidence of ancient atheism. Here 
for the first time we meet with the direct statement 
which we have searched for in vain among all the 
preceding authors : that the gods of popular belief 
are fabrication pure and simple and without any 
corresponding reality, however remote. /The nature 
of our tradition precludes our ascertaining whether 
such a statement might have been made earlier ; 
but the probability is a priori that it was not. The 
whole development of ancient reasoning on religious 
questions, as far as we are able to survey it, leads in 
reality to the conclusion that atheism as an expressed 
(though perhaps not publicly expressed) confession 
of faith did not appear till the age of the sophists. 

With the Critias fragment we have also brought 
to an end the inquiry into the direct statements of 
atheistic tendency which have come down to us 
from the age of the sophists. The result is, as we see, 
rather meagre. But it may be supplemented with 
indirect testimonies which prove that there was 
more of the thing than the direct tradition would 


lead us to conjecture, and that the denial of the 
existence of the gods must have penetrated very 
wide circles. 

The fullest expression of Attic free-thought at the 
end of the fifth century is to be found in the tra- 
gedies of Euripides. They are leavened with re- 
flections on all possible moral and religious problems, 
and criticism of the traditional conceptions of the 
gods plays a leading part in them. We shall, 
however, have some difficulty in using Euripides as a 
source of what people really thought at this period, 
partly because he is a very pronounced personality 
and by no means a mere mouthpiece for the ideas 
of his contemporaries — during his lifetime he was 
an object of the most violent animosity owing, 
among other things, to his free-thinking views — 
partly because he, as a dramatist, was obliged to 
put his ideas into the mouths of his characters, so 
that in many cases it is difficult to decide how much 
is due to dramatic considerations and how much to 
the personal opinion of the poet. Even to this day 
the religious standpoint of Euripides is matter of 
dispute. In the most recent detailed treatment of 
the question he is characterised as an atheist, 
whereas others regard him merely as a dialectician 
who debates problems without having any real 
standpoint of his own. 

I do not believe that Euripides personally denied 
the existence of the gods ; there is too much that 
tells against that theory, and, in fact, nothing that 
tells directly in favour of it, though he did not quite 
escape the charge of atheism even in his own day. 
To prove the correctness of this view would, however, 


lead too far afield in this connexion. On the other 
hand, a short characterisation of Euripides's manner 
of reasoning about religious problems is unavoidable 
as a background for the treatment of those — very 
rare — passages where he has put actually atheistic 
reflections into the mouths of his characters. 

As a Greek dramatist Euripides had to derive his 
subjects from the heroic legends, which at the same 
time were legends of the gods in so far as they were 
interwoven with tales of the gods' direct intervention 
in affairs. It is precisely against this intervention 
that the criticism of Euripides is primarily directed. 
Again and again he makes his characters protest 
against the manner in which they are treated by 
the gods or in which the gods generally behave. 
It is characteristic of Euripides that his starting- 
point in this connexion is always the moral one. 
So far he is a typical representative of that tendency 
which, in earlier times, was represented by Xeno- 
phanes and a little later by Pindar ; in no other 
Greek poet has the method of using the higher con- 
ceptions of the gods against the lower found more 
complete expression than in Euripides. And in so far, 
too, he is still entirely on the ground of popular beUef . 
But at the same time it is characteristic of him that 
he is familiar with and highly influenced by Greek 
science. He knows the most eminent representa- 
tives of Ionian naturalism (with the exception of 
Democritus), and he is fond of displaying his know- 
ledge. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that he uses 
it in a contentious spirit against popular belief ; on 
the contrary, he is inclined in agreement with the 
old philosophers to identify the gods of popular 


belief with the elements. Towards sophistic he 
takes a similar, but less sympathetic attitude. 
Sophistic was not in vogue till he was a man of 
mature age ; he made acquaintance with it, and he 
made use of it — there are reflections in his dramas 
which carry distinct evidence of sophistic influence ; 
but in his treatment of religious problems he is not 
a disciple of the sophists, and on this subject, as on 
others, he occasionally attacked them. 

It is against this background that we must set 
the reflections with an atheistic tone that we find in 
Euripides. They are, as already mentioned, rare ; 
indeed, strictly speaking there is only one case 
in which a character openly denies the existence of 
the gods. The passage is a fragment of the drama 
Bellerophon ; it is, despite its isolation, so typical 
of the manner of Euripides that it deserves to be 
quoted in full. 

"And then to, say that there are gods in the 
heavens ! Nay, there are none there ; if you are 
not foolish enough to be seduced by the old talk. 
Think for yourselves about the matter, and do not be 
influenced by my words. I contend that the tyrants 
kill the people wholesale, take their money and 
destroy cities in spite of their oaths ; and although 
they do all this they are happier than people who, 
in peace and quietness, lead god-fearing lives. 
And I know small states which honour the gods, 
but must obey greater states, which are less pious, 
because their spearmen are fewer in number. And 
I believe that you, if a slothful man just prayed to 
the gods and did not earn his bread by the work of 

his hands " Here the sense is interrupted ; 



but there remains one more line : " That which 
builds the castle of the gods is in part the unfortunate 
happenings ..." The continuation is missing. 

The argumentation here is characteristic of 
Euripides. From the injustice of life he infers the 
non-existence of the gods. The conclusion evidently 
only holds good on the assumption that the gods 
must be just ; and this is precisely one of the postu- 
lates of popular belief. The reasoning is not soph- 
istic ; on the contrary, in their attacks the sophists 
took up a position outside the foundation of popular 
belief and attacked the foundation itself. This 
reasoning, on the other hand, is closely allied to the 
earlier religious thinking of the Greeks ; it only 
proceeds further than the latter, where it results in 
rank denial. 

The drama of B eller ophon is lost, and reconstruc- 
tion is out of the question ; if only for that reason 
it is unwarrantable to draw any conclusions from the 
detached fragment as to the poet's personal attitude 
towards the existence of the gods. But, neverthe- 
less, the fragment is of interest in this connexion. 
It would never have occurred to Sophocles or 
Aeschylus to put such a speech in the mouth of one 
of his characters. When Euripides does that it 
is a proof that the question of the existence of the 
gods has begun to present itself to the popular 
consciousness at this time. Viewed in this light 
other statements of his which are not in themselves 
atheistic become significant. When it is said : 
" If the gods act in a shameful way, they are not 
gods " — that indeed is not atheism in our sense, but 
it is very near to it. Interesting is also the intro- 


duction to the drama Melanippe : " Zeus, whoever 
Zeus may be ; for of that I only know what is told." 
Aeschylus begins a strophe in one of his most famous 
choral odes with almost the same words : " Zeus, 
whoe'er he be ; for if he desire so to be called, I will 
address him by this name." In him it is an ex- 
pression of genuine antique piety, which excludes 
all human impertinence towards the gods to such a 
degree that it even forgoes knowing their real names. 
In Euripides the same idea becomes an expression of 
doubt ; but in this case also the doubt is raised on 
the foundation of popular belief. 

It is not surprising that so prominent and sus- 
tained a criticism of popular belief as that of Euri- 
pides, produced, moreover, on the stage, called forth 
a reaction from the defenders of the established 
faith, and that charges of impiety were not wanting. 
It is more to be wondered at that these charges on 
the whole are so few and slight, and that Euripides 
did not become the object of any actual prosecution. 
We know of a private trial in which the accuser 
incidentally charged Euripides with impiety on the 
strength of a quotation from one of his tragedies, 
Euripides's answer being a protest against dragging 
his poetry into the affair ; the verdict on that be- 
longed to another court. Aristophanes, who is always 
severe on Euripides, has only one passage directly 
charging him with being a propagator of atheism ; 
but the accusation is hardly meant to be taken 
seriously. In The Frogs, where he had every oppor- 
tunity of emphasising this view, there is hardly an 
indication of it. In The Clouds, where the main 
attack is directed against modern free-thought, 


Euripides, to be sure, is sneered at as being the 
fashionable poet of the corrupted youth, but he is 
not drawn into the charge of impiety. Even when 
Plato wrote his Republic, Euripides was generally 
considered the " wisest of all tragedians." This 
would have been impossible if he had been considered 
an atheist. In spite of all, the general feeling must 
undoubtedly have been that Euripides ultimately 
took his stand on the ground of popular belief. It 
was a similar instinctive judgment in regard to 
religion which prevented antiquity from placing 
Xenophanes amongst the atheists. Later times 
no doubt judged differently ; the quotation from 
Melanippe is in fact cited as a proof that Euripides 
was an atheist in his heart of hearts. 

In Aristophanes we meet with the first observa- 
tions concerning the change in the religious condi- 
tions of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. 
In one of his plays. The Clouds, he actually set him- 
self the task of taking up arms against modern un- 
belief, and he characterises it directly as atheism. 
If only for that reason the play deserves somewhat 
fuller consideration. 

It is well known that Aristophanes chose 
Socrates as a representative of the modern move- 
ment. In him he embodies all the faults with 
which he wished to pick a quarrel in the fashionable 
philosophy of the day. On the other hand, the 
essence of Socratic teaching is entirely absent from 
Aristophanes's representation ; of that he had 
hardly any understanding, and even if he had he 
would at any rate not have been able to make use 
of it in his drama. We need not then in this 


connexion consider Socrates himself at all ; on the 
other hand, the play gives a good idea of the 
popular idea of sophistic. Here we find all the 
features of the school, grotesquely mixed up and 
distorted by the farce, it is true, but nevertheless 
easily recognisable : rhetoric as an end in itself, of 
course, with emphasis on its immoral aspect ; empty/ 
and hair-splitting dialectics ; linguistic researches ;| 
Ionic naturalism ; and first and last, as the focus ofj 
all, denial of the gods. That Aristophanes was well' 
informed on certain points, at any rate, is clear from 
the fact that the majority of the scientific explana- 
tions which he puts into the mouth of Socrates 
actually represent the latest results of science at that 
time — which in all probability did not prevent his 
Athenians from considering them as exceedingly 
absurd and ridiculous. 

What matters here, however, is only the accusa- 
tion of atheism which he made against Socrates. 
It is a little difficult to handle, in so far as Aristo- 
phanes, for dramatic reasons, has equipped Socrates 
with a whole set of deities. There are the clouds 
themselves, which are of Aristophanes's own 
invention ; there is also the air, which he has got 
from Diogenes of Apollonia, and finally a " vortex " 
which is supposed to be derived from the same 
source, and which at any rate has cast Zeus down 
from his throne. All this we must ignore, as it is 
only conditioned partly by technical reasons — 
Aristophanes had to have a chorus and chose 
the clouds for the purpose — and partially by the 
desire to ridicule Ionic naturalism. But enough is 
left over. In the beginning of the play Socrates 


expressly declares that no gods exist. Similar 
statements are repeated in several places. Zeus is 
sometimes substituted for the gods, but it comes to 
the same thing. And at the end of the play, where 
the honest Athenian, who has ventured on the 
ticklish ground of sophistic, admits his delusion, it 
is expressly said : 

" Oh, what a fool I am ! Nay, I must have been 
mad indeed when I thought of throwing the gods 
away for Socrates's sake ! " 

Even in the verses with which the chorus con- 
clude the play it is insisted that the worst crime of 
the sophists is their insult to the gods. 

The inference to be drawn from all this is simply 
that the popular Athenian opinion — for we may rest 
assured that this and the view of Aristophanes are 
identical — was that the sophists were atheists. 
That says but little. For popular opinion always 
works with broad categories, and the probability 
is that in this case, as demonstrated above, it was in 
the wrong, for, as a rule, the sophists were hardly 
conscious deniers of the gods. But, at the same 
time, at the back of the onslaught of Aristophanes 
there lies the idea that the teaching of the sophists 
led to denial of the gods ; that atheism was the 
natural outcome of their doctrine and way of reason- 
ing. And that there was some truth therein is 
proved by other evidence which can hardly be 

In the indictment of Socrates it is said that he 
" offended by not believing in the gods in which the 
State believed." In the two apologies for Socrates 
which have come down to us under Xenophon's 


name, the author treats this accusation entirely 
under the aspect of atheism, and tries to refute it 
by positive proofs of the piety of Socrates. But 
not one word is said about there being, in and for 
itself, anything remarkable or improbable in the 
charge. In Plato's Apology, Plato makes Socrates 
ask the accuser point-blank whether he is of the 
opinion that he, Socrates, does not believe in the 
gods at all and accordingly is a downright denier 
of the gods, or whether he merely means to say that 
he believes in other gods than those of the State. 
He makes the accuser answer that the assertion is 
that Socrates does not believe in any gods at all. 
In Plato Socrates refutes the accusation indirectly, 
using a line of argument entirely differing from that 
of Xenophon. But in Plato, too, the accusation 
is treated as being in no way extraordinary. In 
my opinion, Plato's Apology cannot be used as 
historical evidence for details unless special reasons 
can be given proving their historical value beyond 
the fact that they occur in the Apology. But in 
this connexion the question is not what was said or 
not said at Socrates's trial. The decisive point is 
that we possess two quite independent and unam- 
biguous depositions by two fully competent wit- 
nesses of the beginning of the fourth century which 
both treat of the charge of atheism as something 
which is neither strange nor surprising at their time. 
It is therefore permissible to conclude that in Athens 
at this time there really existed circles or at any rate 
not a few individuals who had given up the belief 
in the popular gods. 

A dialogue between Socrates and a young man 


by name Aristodemus, given in Xenophon's Mem- 
orabilia, makes the same impression. Of Aristo- 
demus it is said that he does not sacrifice to the gods, 
does not consult the Oracle and ridicules those who 
do so. When he is called to account for this be- 
haviour he maintains that he does not despise " the 
divine," but is of the opinion that it is too exalted 
to need his worship. Moreover, he contends that 
the gods do not trouble themselves about mankind. 
This is, of course, not atheism in our sense ; but 
Aristodemus's attitude is, nevertheless, extremely 
eccentric in a community like that of Athens in the 
fifth century. And yet it is not mentioned as 
anything isolated and extraordinary, but as if it were 
something which, to be sure, was out of the common, 
but not unheard of. 

It is further to be observed that at the end of the 
fifth century we often hear of active sacrilegious 
outrages. An example is the historic trial of Alci- 
biades for profanation of the Mysteries. But this 
was not an isolated occurrence ; there were more of 
the same kind at the time. Of the dithyrambic 
poet Cinesias it is said that he profaned holy things 
in an obscene manner. But the greatest stress of 
all must be laid on the well-known mutilation of 
the Hermae at Athens in 415, just before the expedi- 
tion to Sicily. All the tales about the outrages of 
the Mysteries may have been fictitious, but it is a 
fact that the Hermae were mutilated. The motive 
was probably political : the members of a secret 
society intended to pledge themselves to each other 
by all committing a capital crime. But that they 
chose just this form of crime shows quite clearly 


that respect for the State reUgion had greatly 
dechned in these circles. 

What has so far been adduced as proof that the 
belief in the gods had begun to waver in Athens at 
the end of the fifth century is, in my opinion, conclu- 
sive in itself to anybody who is f amihar with the more 
ancient Greek modes of thought and expression on 
this point, and can not only hear what is said, but 
also understand how it is said and what is passed 
over in silence. Of course it can always be objected 
that the proofs are partly the assertions of a comic 
poet who certainly was not particular about accusa- 
tions of impiety, partly deductions ex silentio, 
partly actions the motives for which are uncertain. 
Fortunately, however, we have — from a slightly 
later period, it is true — a positive utterance which 
confirms our conclusion and which comes from a 
man who was not in the habit of talking idly and 
who had the best opportunities of knowing the 

[''In the tenth book of his Laws, written shortly 
before his death, i.e. about the middle of the fourth 
century, Plato gives a detailed account of the 
question of irreligion seen from the point of view 
of penal legislation. He distinguishes here between 
three forms, namely, denial of the existence of the 
gods, denial of the divine providence (whereas the 
existence of the gods is admitted), and finally the 
assumption that the gods exist and exercise provi- 
dence, but that they allow themselves to be in- 
fluenced by sacrifices and prayers. Of these three 
categories the last is evidently directed against 
ancient popular belief itself ; it does not therefore 


interest us in this connexion. The second view, 
the denial of a providence, we have already met with 
in Xenophon in the character of Aristodemus, and 
in the sophist Thrasymachus ; Euripides, too, 
sometimes alludes to it, though it was far from 
being his own opinion. Whether it amounted to 
denial of the gods or not was, in ancient times, the 
cause of much dispute ; it is, of course, not atheism 
in our sense, but it is certainly evidence that belief 
in the gods is shaken. The first view, on the other 
hand, is sheer atheism. Plato consequently reckons 
with this as a serious danger to the community ; 
he mentions it as a widespread view among the 
youth of his time, and in his legislation he sentences 
to death those who fail to be converted. It would 
seem certain, therefore, that there was, in reality, 
something in it after all. 

y Plato does not confine himself to defining 
atheism and laying down the penalty for it ; he 
at the same time, in accordance with a principle 
which he generally follows in the Laws, discusses 
it and tries to disprove it. In this way he happens 
to give us information — which is of special interest 
to us — of the proofs which were adduced by its 

f The argument is a twofold one. First comes 
the naturalistic proof ; the heavenly bodies, 
according to the general (and Plato's own) view the 
most certain deities, are inanimate natural objects. 
It is interesting to note that in speaking of this 
doctrine in detail reference is clearly made to 
Anaxagoras ; this confirms our afore-mentioned 
conjectures as to the character of his work. Plato 


was quite in a position to deal with Anaxagoras on 
the strength not only of what he said, but of what 
he passed over in silence. The second argument 
is the well-known sophistic one, that the gods are 
nomoi, not physei, they depend upon convention, 
which has nothing to do with reality. In this 
connexion the argument adds that what applies 
to the gods, applies also to right and wrong ; i.e. 
we find here in the Laws the view with which we are 
familiar from Callicles in the Gorgias, but with the 
missing link supplied. And Plato's development of 
this theme shows clearly just what a general historical 
consideration might lead us to expect, namely, that 
it was naturalism and sophistic that jointly under- 
mined the belief in the old gods. 


WITH Socrates and his successors the wholeN 
question of the relation of Greek thought 
to popular belief enters upon a new phase^^ 
The Socratic philosophy is in many ways a con- 
tinuat ion of sophistic. This is involved already in 
the fact that the same questions form the central 
interest in the two schools of thought, so that the 
problems stated by the sophists became the decisive 
factor in the content of Socratic and Platonic 
thought. The Socratic schools at the same time 
took over the actual programme of the sophists, 
namely, the education of adolescence in the highest 
culture. But, on the other hand, the Socratic philo- 
sophy was in the opposite camp to sophistic ; on 
many points it represents a reaction against it, a 
recollection of the valuable elements contained in 
earlier Greek thought on life, especially human life, 
values which sophistic regarded with indifference or 
even hostility, and which were threatened with 
destruction if it should carry the day. This re- 
actionary tendency in Socratic philosophy appears 
nowhere more plainly than in the field of religion. 

Under these circumstances it is a peculiar irony 
of fate that the very originator of the new trend in 
Greek thought was charged with and sentenced for 

impiety. We have already mentioned the singular 



prelude to the indictment afforded by the comedy of 
Aristophanes. We have also remarked upon the 
futility of looking therein for any actual enlighten- 
ment on the Socratic point of view. And Plato 
makes Socrates state this with all necessary sharp- 
ness in the Apology. Hence what we may infer from 
the attack of Aristophanes is merely this, that the 
general public lumped Socrates together with the 
sophists and more especially regarded him as a 
godless fellow. Unless this had been so, Aristo- 
phanes could not have introduced him as the chief 
character in his travesty. And without doubt it 
was this popular point of view which his accusers 
relied on when they actually included atheism as a 
count in their bill of indictment. It will, neverthe- 
less, be necessary to dwell for a moment on this bill 
of indictment and the defence. 

The charge of impiety was a twofold one, partly 
for not believing in the gods the State believed in, 
partly for introducing new " demonic things." 
This latter act was directly punishable according 
to Attic law. What his accusers alluded to was the 
daimonion of Socrates. That they should have had 
any idea of what that was must be regarded as utterly 
out of the question, and whatever it may have been 
— and of this we shall have a word to say later — 
it had at any rate nothing whatever to do with 
atheism. As to the charge of not believing in the 
gods of the State, Plato makes the accuser prefer it 
in the form that Socrates did not believe in any gods 
at all, after which it becomes an easy matter for 
Socrates to show that it is directly incompatible 
with the charge of introducing new deities. As 


ground for his accusation the accuser states — in 
Plato, as before — that Socrates taught the same 
doctrine about the sun and moon as Anaxagoras. 
The whole of the passage in the Apology in which the 
question of the denial of gods is dealt with — a short 
dialogue between Socrates and the accuser, quite 
in the Socratic manner — historically speaking, 
carries little conviction, and we therefore dare not 
take it for granted that the charge either of atheism 
or of false doctrine about the sun and moon was 
put forward in that form. But that something 
about this latter point was mentioned during the 
trial must be regarded as probable, when we con- 
sider that Xenophon, too, defends Socrates at some 
length against the charge of concerning himself with 
speculations on Nature. That he did not do so 
must be taken for certain, not only from the express 
evidence of Xenophon and Plato, but from the whole 
nature of the case. The accusation on this point 
was assuredly pure fabrication. There remains 
only what was no doubt also the main point, 
namely, the assertion of the pernicious influence of 
Socrates on the young, and the inference of ir- 
religion to be drawn from it — an argument which 
it would be absurd to waste any words upon. 

The attack, then, affords no information about 
Socrates's personal point of view as regards belief in 
the gods, and the defence only very little. Both 
Xenophon and Plato give an account of Socrates's 
daimonion, but this point has so little relation to 
the charge of atheism that it is not worth examina- 
tion. For the rest Plato's defence is indirect. He 
makes Socrates refute his opponent, but does not 


let him say a word about his own point of view. 
Xenophon is more positive, in so far as in the first 
place he asserts that Socrates worshipped the gods 
like any other good citizen, and more especially 
that he advised his friends to use the Oracle ; in 
the second place, that, though he lived in full pub- 
licity, no one ever saw him do or heard him say 
anything of an impious nature. All these assertions 
are assuredly correct, and they render it highly 
improbable that Socrates should have secretly 
abandoned the popular faith, but they tell us little 
that is positive about his views. Fortunately we 
possess other means of getting to closer grips with 
the question ; the way must be through a con- 
sideration of Socrates's whole conduct and his mode 
of thought. 

Here we at once come to the interesting negative 
fact that there is nothing in tradition to indicate 
that Socrates ever occupied himself with theological 
questions. To be sure, Xenophon has twice put 
into his mouth a whole theodicy expressing an 
elaborate teleological view of nature. But that we 
dare not base anything upon this is now, I think, 
universally acknowledged. Plato, in the dialogue 
Euthyphron, makes him subject the popular notion of 
piety to a devastating criticism ; but this, again, will 
not nowadays be regarded as historical by anybody. 
Everything we are told about Socrates which bears 
the stamp of historical truth indicates that he 
restricted himself to ethics and left theology alone. 
But this very fact is not without significance. It 
indicates that Socrates's aim was not to alter the 
reUgious views of his contemporaries. Since he 


did not do so we may reasonably believe it was 
because they did not inconvenience him in what 
was most important to him, i.e. ethics. 

We may, however, perhaps go even a step 
farther. We may venture, I think, to maintain 
that so far from contemporary religion being a 
hindrance to Socrates in his occupation as a teacher 
of ethics, it was, on the contrary, an indispensable 
support to him, nay, an integral component of his 
fundamental ethical view. The object of Socrates 
in his relations with his fellow-men was, on his own 
showing — for on this important point I think we can 
confidently rely upon Plato's Apology — to make 
clear to them that they knew nothing. And when 
he was asked to say in what he himself differed from 
other people, he could mention only one thing, 
namely, that he was aware of his own ignorance. 
But his ignorance is not an ignorance of this thing 
or that, it is a radical ignorance, something involved 
in the essence of man as man. That is, in other 
words, it is determined by religion. In order to be 
at all intelligible and ethically applicable, it pre- 
supposes the conception of beings of whom the 
essence is knowledge. For Socrates and his con- 
temporaries the popular belief supplied such beings 
in the gods. The institution of the Oracle itself is 
an expression of the recognition of the superiority 
of the gods to man in knowledge. But the dogma 
had long been stated even in its absolute form when 
Homer said : " The gods know everything." To 
Socrates, who always took his starting-point quite 
popularly from notions that were universally ac- 
cepted, this basis was simply indispensable. And 


so far from inconveniencing Socrates, the multi- 
plicity and anthropomorphism of the gods seemed an 
advantage to him — the more they were like man in 
all but the essential qualification, the better. 

The Socratic ignorance has an ethical bearing. 
Its complement is his assertion that virtue is know- 
ledge. Here again the gods are the necessary pre- 
supposition and determination. That the gods were 
good, or, as it was preferred to express it, " just " 
(the Greek word comprises more than the English 
word), was no less a popular dogma than the notion 
that they possessed knowledge. Now all Socrates's 
efforts were directed towards goodness as an end in 
view, towards the ethical development of mankind. 
Here again popular belief was his best ally. To the 
people to whom he talked, virtue (the Greek word 
is at once both wider and narrower in sense than the 
English term) was no mere abstract notion ; it was a 
living reality to them, embodied in beings that were ^ 
like themselves, human beings, but perfect human 

If we correlate this with the negative circum- 
stance that Socrates was no theologian but a teacher 
of ethics, we can easily understand a point of view 
which accepted popular belief as it was and employed 
it for working purposes in the service of moral teach- 
ing. Such a point of view, moreover, gained extra- 
ordinary strength by the fact that it preserved con- 
tinuity with earlier Greek religious thought. This 
latter, too, had been ethical in its bearing ; it, too, 
had employed the gods in the service of its ethical 
aim. But its central idea was felicity, not virtue ; its 

starting-point was the popular dogma of the felicity 


of the gods, not their justice. In this way it had 
come to lay stress on a virtue which might be 
termed modesty, but in a rehgious sense, i.e. man 
must recognise his difference from the gods as a 
Hmited being, subject to the vicissitudes of an 
existence abovewhich the gods are raised. Socrates 
says just the same, only that he puts knowledge or 
virtue, which to him was the same thing, in the 
place of felicity. From a religious point of view the 
result is exactly the same, namely, the doctrine of 
the gods as the terminus and ideal, and the insistence 
on the gulf separating man from them. We are 
tempted to say that, had Socrates turned with 
hostile intent against a religion which thus played 
into his hands, the more fool he. But this is putting 
the problem the wrong way up — Socrates never 
stood critically outside popular belief and tradi- 
tional religious thought speculating as to whether 
he should use it or reject it. No, his thought grew 
out of it as from the bosom of the earth. Hence its 
mighty religious power, its inevitable victory over a 
school of thought which had severed all connexion 
with tradition. 

That such a point of view should be so badly 
misunderstood as it was in Athens seems incompre- 
hensible. The explanation is no doubt that the 
whole story of Socrates's denial of the gods was only 
included by his accusers for the sake of completeness, 
and did not play any great part in the final issue. 
This seems confirmed by the fact that they found it 
convenient to support their charge of atheism by one 
of introducing foreign gods, this being punishable by 
Attic law. They thus obtained some slight hold foj 


their accusation. But both charges must be pre- 
sumed to have been so signally refuted during the 
trial that it is hardly possible that any great number 
of the judges were influenced by them. It was quite 
different and far weightier matters which brought 
about the conviction of Socrates, questions on which 
there was really a deep and vital difference of 
opinion between him and his contemporaries. That 
Socrates's attitude towards popular belief was at 
any rate fully understood elsewhere is testified by 
the answer of the Delphic Oracle, that declared 
Socrates to be the wisest of all men. However 
remarkable such a pronouncement from such a place 
may appear, it seems impossible to reject the 
accounts of it as unhistorical ; on the other hand, 
it does not seem impossible to explain how the 
Oracle came to declare itself as reported. Earlier 
Greek thought, which insisted upon the gulf sepa- 
rating gods and men, was from olden times inti- 
mately connected with the Delphic Oracle. It hardly 
sprang from there ; more probably it arose spon- 
taneously in various parts of Hellas. But it would 
naturally feel attracted toward the Oracle, which 
was one of the religious centres of Hellas, and it was 
recognised as legitimate by the Oracle. Above all, 
the honour shown by the Oracle to Pindar, one of the 
chief representatives of the earlier thought, testifies 
to this. Hence there is nothing incredible in the 
assumption that Socrates attracted notice at Delphi 
as a defender of the old-fashioned religious views 
approved by the Oracle, precisely in virtue of his 
opposition to the ideas then in vogue. 

If we accept this explanation we are, however, 


excluded from taking literally Plato's account of 
the answer of the Delphic Oracle and Socrates's 
attitude towards it. Plato presents the case as if 
the Oracle were the starting-point of Socrates's 
philosophy and of the peculiir mode of life which 
was indissolubly bound up with it. This presenta- 
tion cannot be correct if we are to regard the Oracle 
as historical and understand it as we have under- 
stood it. The Oracle presupposes the Socrates we 
know : a man with a religious message and a mode 
of life which was bound to attract notice to him as an 
exception from the general rule. It cannot, there- 
fore, have been the cause of Socrates's finding himself. 
On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine a man 
choosing a mode of life like that of Socrates without 
a definite inducement, without some fact or other 
that would lead him to conceive himself as an 
exception from the rule. If we look for such a fact 
in the life of Socrates, we shall look in vain as regards 
externals. Apart from his activities as a religious 
and ethical personality, his life was that of any other 
Attic citizen. But in his spiritual life there was 
certainly one point, but only one, on which he 
deviated from the normal, namely, his daimonion. 
If we examine the accounts of this more closely the 
only thing we can make of them is — or so at least it 
seems to me — that we are here in the presence of a 
form — peculiar, no doubt, and highly developed — of 
the phenomena which are nowadays classed under 
the concept of clairvoyance. Now Plato makes 
Socrates himself say that the power of avoiding what 
would harm him, in great things and little, by virtue 
of a direct perception (a " voice "), which is what 


constituted his daimonion, was given him from 
childhood. That it was regarded as something 
singular both by himself and others is evident, and 
likewise that he himself regarded it as something 
supernatural; the designation daimonion itself seems 
to be his own. I think that we must seek for 
the origin of Socrates's peculiar mode of life in this 
direction, strange as it may be that a purely mystic 
element should have given the impulse to the most 
rationalistic philosophy the world has ever produced. 
It is impossible to enter more deeply into this prob- 
lem here ; but, if my conjecture is correct, we have 
an additional explanation of the fact that Socrates 
was disposed to anything rather than an attack on 
the established religion. 

A view of popular religion such as I have here 
sketched bore in itself the germ of a further devel- 
opment which must lead in other directions. A 
personality like Socrates might perhaps manage 
throughout a lifetime to keep that balance on a 
razor's edge which is involved in utilising to the 
utmost in the service of ethics the popular dogmas 
of the perfection of the gods, while disregarding all 
irrelevant tales, all myths and all notions of too 
human a tenor about them. This demanded con- 
centration on the one thing needful, in conjunction 
with deep piety of the most genuine antique kind, 
with the most profound religious modesty, a com- 
bination which it was assuredly given to but one 
man to attain. Socrates's successors had it not. 
Starting precisely from a Socratic foundation they 
entered upon theological speculations which carried 
them away from the Socratic point of view. 


For the Cynics, who set up virtue as the only good, 
the popular notions of the gods would seem to have 
been just as convenient as for Socrates. And we 
know that Antisthenes, the founder of the school, 
made ample use of them in his ethical teaching. He 
represented Heracles as the Cynical ideal and oc- 
cupied himself largely with allegorical interpreta- 
tion of the myths. On the other hand, there is a 
tradition that hé maintained that " according to 
nature " there was only one god, but " according to 
the law " several — a purely sophistic view. He in- 
veighed against the worship of images, too, and 
maintained that god " did not resemble any thing," 
and we know that his school rejected all worship of 
the gods because the gods " were in need of nothing." 
This conception, too, is presumably traceable to 
Antisthenes. In all this the theological interest is 
evident. As soon as this interest sets in, the har- 
monious relation to the popular faith is upset, the 
discord between its higher and lower ideas becomes 
manifest, and criticism begins to assert itself. In 
the case of Antisthenes, if we may believe tradition, 
it seems to have led to monotheism, in itself a most 
remarkable phenomenon in the history of Greek 
religion, but the material is too slight for us to make 
anything of it. The later Cynics afford interesting 
features in illustration of atheism in antiquity, but 
this is best left to a later chapter. 

About the relations of the Megarians to the 
popular faith we know next to nothing. One of 
them, Stilpo, was charged with impiety on account 
of a bad joke about Athene, and convicted, although 
he tried to save himself by another bad joke. As 


his point of view was that of a downright sceptic, 
he was no doubt an atheist according to the notions 
of antiquity ; in our day he would be called an 
agnostic, but the information that we have about his 
religious standpoint is too slight to repay dwelling 
on him. 

As to the relation of the Cyrenaic school to the 
popular faith, the general proposition has been 
handed down to us that the wise man could not be 
" deisidaimon," i.e. superstitious or god-fearing ; 
the Greek word can have both senses. This does 
not speak for piety at any rate, but then the re- 
lationship of the Cyrenaics to the gods of popular 
belief was different from that of the other followers 
of Socrates. As they set up pleasure — the momen- 
tary, isolated feeling of pleasure — as the supreme 
good, they had no use for the popular conceptions 
of the gods in their ethics, nay, these conceptions 
were even a hindrance to them in so far as the fear 
of the gods might prove a restriction where it ought 
not to. In these circumstances we cannot wonder 
at finding a member of the school in the list of 
atheoi. This is Theodorus of Cyrene, who lived 
about the year 300. He really seems to have been 
a downright denier of the gods ; he wrote a work 
On the Gods containing a searching criticism of 
theology, which is said to have exposed him to 
unpleasantness during a stay at Athens, but the then 
ruler of the city, Demetrius of Phalerum, protected 
him. There is nothing strange in a manifestation 
of downright atheism at this time and from this 
quarter. More remarkable is that interest in theo- 
logy which we must assume Theodorus to have had, 


since he wrote at length upon the subject. Unfortu- 
nately it is not evident from the account whether his 
criticism was directed mostly against popular religion 
or against the theology of the philosophers. As it 
was asserted in antiquity that Epicurus used his book 
largely, the latter is more probable. 

Whereas in the case of the " imperfect Socratics '* 
as well as of all the earlier philosophers we must 
content ourselves with more or less casual notes, and 
at the best with fragments, and for Socrates with 
second-hand information, when we come to Plato 
we find ourselves for the first time in the presence 
of full and authentic information. Plato belongs 
to those few among the ancient authors of whom 
everything that their contemporaries possessed has 
been preserved to our own day. There would, 
however, be no cause to speak about Plato in an 
investigation of atheism in antiquity, had not so 
eminent a scholar as Zeller roundly asserted that 
Plato did not believe in the Greek gods — with the 
exception of the heavenly bodies, in the case of which 
the facts are obvious. On the other hand, it is 
impossible here to enter upon a close discussion of so 
large a question ; I must content myself with giving 
my views in their main lines, with a brief statement 
of my reasons for holding them. 

In the mythical portions of his dialogues Plato 
uses the gods as a given poetic motive and treats 
them with poetic licence. Otherwise they play a 
very inferior part in the greater portion of his works. 
In the Euthyphron he gives a sharp criticism of the 
popular conception of piety, and in reality at the 
same time very seriously questions the importance 


and value of the existing form of worship. In his 
chief ethical work, the Gorgias, he subjects the funda- 
mental problems of individual ethics to a close dis- 
cussion without saying one word of their relation to 
religion ; if we except the mythic part at the end the 
gods scarcely appear in the dialogue. Finally, in 
his Republic he no doubt gives a detailed criticism 
of popular mythology as an element of education, 
and in the course of this also some positive defini- 
tions of the idea of God, but throughout the con- 
struction of his ideal community he entirely dis- 
regards religion and worship, even if he occasionally 
takes it for granted that a cult of some sort exists, 
and in one place quite casually refers to the Oracle 
at Delphi as authority for its organisation in details. 
To this may further be added the negative point 
that he never in any of his works made Socrates 
define his position in regard to the sophistic treat- 
ment of the popular religion. 

- In Plato's later works the case is different. In 
the construction of the universe described in the 
Timaeus the gods have a definite and significant place, 
and in the Laws, Plato's last work, they play a 
leading part. Here he not only gives elaborate 
rules for the organisation of the worship which per- 
meate the whole life of the community, but even in 
the argument of the dialogue the gods are every- 
where in evidence in a way which strongly suggests 
bigotry. Finally, Plato gives the above-mentioned 
definitions of impiety and fixes the severest punish- 
ment for it — for downright denial of the gods, 
when all attempts at conversion have failed, the 
penalty of death. 


On this evidence we are tempted to take the ^iew 
that Plato in his earHer years took up a critical 
attitude in regard to the gods of popular belief, 
perhaps even denied them altogether, that he 
gradually grew more conservative, and ended by 
being a confirmed bigot. And we might look for a 
corroboration of this in a peculiar observation in the 
Laws. jPlato opens his admonition to the young 
against atheism by reminding them that they are 
young, and that false opinion concerning the gods is 
a common disease among the young, but that utter 
denial of their existence is not wont to endure to 
old age. In this we might ' see an expression of 
personal religious experience. \ 

Nevertheless I do not think such a construction 
of Plato's religious development feasible. A deci- 
sive objection is his exposition of the Socratic point 
of view in so early a work as the Apology. I at any 
rate regard it as psychologically impossible that a 
downright atheist, be he ever so great a poet, should 
be able to draw such a picture of a deeply religious 
personality, and draw it with so much sympathy 
and such convincing force. Add to this other facts 
of secondary moment. Even the close criticism 
to which Plato subjects the popular notions of the 
gods in his Republic does not indicate denial of the 
gods as such ; moreover, it is built on a positive 
foundation, on the idea of the goodness of the gods 
and their truth (which for Plato manifests itself in 
immutability) . Finally, Plato at all times vigorously 
advocated the belief in providence. In the Laws he 
stamps unbelief in divine providence as impiety ; in 
the Republic he insists in a prominent passage that 


the gods love the just man and order everything for 
him in the best way. And he puts the same thought 
into Socrates's mouth in the Apology, though it is 
hardly Socratic in the strict sense of the word, i.e. as 
a main point in Socrates's conception of existence. 
All this should warn us not to exaggerate the signifi- 
cance of the difference which may be pointed out 
between the religious standpoints of the younger and 
the older Plato. But the difference itself cannot, I 
think, be denied ; there can hardly be any doubt 
that Plato was much more critical of popular belief 
in his youth and prime than towards the close of 
his life. 

Even in Plato's later works there is, in spite of 
their conservative attitude, a very peculiar reserva- 

/tion in regard to the anthropomorphic gods of 
popular belief. It shows itself in the Laws in the 

Mact that where he sets out to prove the existence 
of the gods he contents himself with proving the 
divinity of the heavenly bodies and quite disregards 
the other gods. It appears still more plainly in the 
Timaeus, where he gives a philosophical explanation 
of how the divine heavenly bodies came into exist- 
ence, but says expressly of the other gods that such 
an explanation is impossible, and that we must 
abide by what the old theologians said on this 
subject ; they being partly the children of gods 

. would know best where their parents came from. 

' It is observations of this kind that induced Zeller 
to believe that Plato altogether denied the gods of 

V popular belief ; he also contends that the gods have 

^no place in Plato's system. This latter contention is 
perfectly correct ; Plato never identified the gods 


with the ideas (although he comes very near to it 
in the Republic, where he attributes to them im- 
mutabiUty, the quahty which determines the essence 
of the ideas), and in the Timaeus he distinguishes 
sharply between them. No doubt his doctrine of 
ideas led up to a kind of divinity, the idea of the 
good, as the crown of the system, but the direct 
inference from this conception would be pure mono- 
theism and so exclude polytheism. This inference 
Plato did not draw, though his treatment of the 
gods in the Laws and Timaeus certainly shows that 
he was quite clear that the gods of the popular faith 
were an irrational element in his conception of the 
universe. The two passages do not entitle us to go 
further and conclude that he utterly rejected them, 
and in the Timaeus, where Plato makes both classes of 
gods, both the heavenly bodies and the others, take 
part in the creation of man, this is plainly precluded. 
The playful turn with which he evades inquiry into 
the origin of the gods thus receives its proper 
limitation ; it is entirely confined to their origin. 

Such, according to my view, is the state of the 
case. It is of fundamental importance to emphasise 
the fact that we cannot conclude, because the gods 
of popular belief do not fit into the system of a 
philosopher, that he denies their existence. In 
what follows we shall have occasion to point out a 
case in which, as all are now agreed, a philosophical 
school has adopted and stubbornly held to the belief 
in the existence of gods though this assumption was 
directly opposed to a fundamental proposition in its 
system of doctrine. The case of Plato is particularly 
interesting because he himself was aware and has 


pointed out that here was a point on which the con- 
sistent scientific application of his conception of the 
universe must fail. It is the outcome — one of 
many — of what is perhaps his finest quality as a 
philosopher, namely, his intellectual honesty. 

An indirect testimony to the correctness of the 
view here stated will be found in the way in which 
Plato's faithful disciple Xenocrates developed his 
theology, for it shows that Xenocrates presup- 
posed the existence of the gods of popular belief as 
given by Plato. Xenocrates made it his general 
task to systematise Plato's philosophy (which had 
never been set forth publicly by himself as a whole), 
and to secure it against attack. In the course of 
this work he was bound to discover that the con- 
ception of the gods of popular belief was a particu- 
larly weak point in Plato's system, and he attempted 
to mend matters by a peculiar theory which became 
of the greatest importance for later times. Xeno- 
crates set up as gods, in the first place, the heavenly 
bodies. Next he gave his highest principles (pure 
abstracts such as oneness and twoness) and the 
elements of his universe (air, water and earth) the 
names of some of the highest divinities in popular 
belief (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter). These 
gods, however, did not enter into direct com- 
munication with men, but only through some inter- 
mediate agent. The intermediate agents were the 
" demons," a class of beings who were higher than 
man yet not perfect hke the gods. They were, it 
seems, immortal ; they were invisible and far more 
powerful than human beings ; but they were subject 
to human passions and were of highly differing 


grades of moral perfection. These are the beings 
that are the objects of the greater part of the existing 
cult, especially such usages as rest on the assumption 
that the gods can do harm and are directed towards 
averting it, or which are in other ways objection- 
able ; and with them are connected the myths which 
Plato subjected to so severe a criticism. Xeno- 
crates found a basis for this system in Plato, who 
in the Symposium sets up the demons as a class of 
beings between gods and men, and makes them 
carriers of the prayers and wishes of men to the 
gods. But what was a passing thought with Plato 
serving only a poetical purpose was taken seriously 
and systematised by Xenocrates. 

It can hardly be said that Xenocrates has 
gained much recognition among modern writers on 
the history of philosophy for his theory of demons. 
And yet I cannot see that there was any other 
possible solution of the problem which ancient 
popular belief set ancient philosophy, if, be it under- 
stood, we hold fast by two hypotheses : the first, 
that the popular belief and worship of the ancients 
was based throughout on a foundation of reality ; 
and second, that moral perfection is an essential 
factor in the conception of God. The only incon- 
sistency which we may perhaps bring home to 
Xenocrates is that he retained certain of the 
popular names of the gods as designations for gods 
in his sense ; but this inconsistency was, as we shall 
see, subsequently removed. In favour of this 
estimate of Xenocrates's doctrine of demons may 
further be adduced that it actually was the last 
word of ancient philosophy on the matter. The 


doctrine was adopted by the Stoics, the Neo- 
Pythagoreans, and the Neo-Platonists. Only the 
Epicureans went another way, but their doctrine 
died out before the close of antiquity. And so th^e 
doctrine of demons became the ground on which 
Jewish-Christian monotheism managed to come to 
terms with ancient paganism, to conquer it in 
theory, as it were. 

This implies, however, that the doctrine of 
demons, though it arose out of an honest attempt to 
save popular belief philosophically, in reality brings 
out its incompatibility with philosophy. The re- 
ligion and worship of the ancients could dispense 
with neither the higher nor the lower conceptions of 
its gods. If the former were done away with, 
recognition, however full, of the existence of the 
gods was no good ; in the long run the inference 
could not be avoided that they were immoral powers 
and so ought not to be worshipped. This was the 
inference drawn by Christianity in theory and en- 
forced in practice, ultimately by main force. 

Aristotle is among the philosophers who were 
prosecuted for impiety. When the anti-Macedonian 
party came into power in Athens after the death of 
Alexander, there broke out a persecution against 
his adherents, and this was also directed against 
Aristotle. The basis of the charge against him 
was that he had shown divine honour after his death 
to the tyrant Hermias, whose guest he had been 
during a prolonged stay in Asia Minor. This seems 
to have been a fabrication, and at any rate has 
nothing to do with atheism. In the writings of 
Aristotle, as they were then generally known, it 



would assuredly have been impossible to find any- 
ground for a charge of atheism. 

Nevertheless, Aristotle is one of the philosophers 
?bout whose faith in the gods of popular religion 
well-founded doubts may be raised. Like Plato, he 
acknowledged the divinity of the heavenly bodies 
on the ground that they must have a soul since they 
had independent motion. Further, he has a kind of 
supreme god who, himself unmoved, is the cause of 
all movement, and whose constituent quality is 
reason. As regards the gods of popular belief, in 
his Ethics and his Politics he assumes public worship 
to be a necessary constituent of the life of the in- 
dividual and the community. He gave no grounds 
for this assumption — on the contrary, he expressly 
declared that it was a question which ought not to 
be discussed at all : he who stirs up doubts whether 
honour should be paid to the gods is in need not of 
teaching but of punishment. (That he himself took 
part in worship is evident from his will.) Further, 
in his ethical works he used the conceptions of the 
gods almost in the same way as we have assumed 
that Socrates did, i.e. as the ethical ideal and deter- 
mining the limits of the human. He never entered 
upon any elaborate criticism of the lower elements 
of popular religion such as Plato gave. So far 
everything is in admirable order. But if we look 
more closely at things there is nevertheless nearly 
always a little " but " in Aristotle's utterances 
about the gods. Where he operates with popular 
notions he prefers to speak hypothetically or to refer 
to what is generally assumed ; or he is content to 
use only definitions which will also agree with his 


own philosophical conception of God. But he goes 
further ; in a few places in his writings there are 
utterances which it seems can only be interpreted 
as a radical denial of the popular religion. , The most 
important of them deserves to be quoted in extenso : 

" A tradition has been handed down from 
the ancients and from the most primitive times, 
and left to later ages in the form of myth, that 
these substances {i.e. sky and heavenly bodies) 
are gods and that the divine embraces all 
nature. The rest consists in legendary additions'^ 
intended to impress the multitude and serve the 1 
purposes of legislation and the common weal ; for 
these gods are said to have human shape or resemble 
certain other beings (animals), and they say other 
things which follow from this and are of a similar 
kind to those already mentioned. But if we dis- 
regard all this and restrict ourselves to the first 
point, that they thought that the first substances 
were gods, we must acknowledge that it is a divinely 
inspired saying. And as, in all probability, every 
art and science has been discovered many times, as 
far as it is possible, and has perished again, so these 
notions, too, may have been preserved till now as 
relics of those times. To this extent only can we 
have any idea of the opinion which was held by our 
fathers and has come down from the beginning of 

The last sentences, expressing Aristotle's idea of 
a life-cycle and periods of civilisation which repeat 
themselves, have only been included in the quotation 
for the sake of completeness. If we disregard them, 
the passage plainly enough states the view that the 


only element of truth in the traditional notions 
about the gods was the divinity of the sky and the 
heavenly bodies ; the rest is myth. Aristotle has 
nowhere else expressed himself with such distinct- 
ness and in such length, but then the passage in 
question has a place of its own. It comes in his 
Metaphysics directly after the exposition of his 
philosophical conception of God — a position marked 
by profound earnestness and as it were irradiated 
by a quiet inner fervour. We feel that we are here 
approaching the sanctum sanctorum of the thinker. 
In this connexion, and only here, he wished for once 
to state his opinion about the religion of his time 
without reserve. What he says here is a precise 
formulation of the result arrived at by the best 
Greek thinkers as regards the religion of the Greek 
people. It was not, they thought, pure fabrication. 
It contained an element of truth of the greatest 
value. But most of it consisted of human inven- 
tions without any reality behind them. 

A point of view like that of Aristotle would, I 
suppose, hardly have been called atheism among the 
ancients, if only because the heavenly bodies were 
acknowledged as divine. But according to our defi- 
nition it is atheism. The " sky "-gods of Aristotle 
have nothing in common with the gods of popular 
belief, not even their names, for Aristotle never 
names them. And the rest, the whole crowd of 
Greek anthropomorphic gods, exist only in the 
human imagination. 

Aristotle's successors offer Uttle of interest to 
our inquiry. Theophrastus was charged with 
impiety, but the charge broke down completely. 


His theological standpoint was certainly the same 
as Aristotle's. Of Strato, the most independent of 
the Peripatetics, we know that in his view of nature 
he laid greater stress on the material causes than 
Aristotle did, and so arrived at a different con- 
ception of the supreme deity. Aristotle had severed 
the deity from Nature and placed it outside the 
latter as an incorporeal being whose chief deter- 
mining factor was reason. In Strato's view the 
deity was identical with Nature and, like the latter, 
was without consciousness ; consciousness was only 
found in organic nature. Consequently we cannot 
suppose him to have believed in the divinity of the 
heavenly bodies in Aristotle's sense, though no 
direct statement on this subject has come down to 
us. About his attitude towards popular belief we 
hear nothing. A denial of the popular gods is not 
necessarily implied in Strato's theory, but seems 
reasonable in itself and is further rendered probable 
by the fact that all writers seem to take it for granted 
that Strato knew no god other than the whole of 

We designated Socratic philosophy, in its rela- 
tion to popular belief, as a reaction against the 
radical free-thought of the sophistic movement. 
It may seem peculiar that with Aristotle it develops 
into a view which we can only describe as atheism. 
There is, however, an important difference between 
the standpoints of the sophists and of Aristotle. 
Radical as the latter is at bottom, it is not, however, 
openly opposed to popular belief — on the contrary, 
to any one who did not examine it more closely it 
must have had the appearance of accepting popular 


belief. The very assumption that the heavenly 
bodies were divine would contribute to that effect ; 
this, as we have seen, was a point on which the 
popular view laid great stress. If we add to this 
that Aristotle never made the existence of the 
popular gods matter of debate ; that he expressly 
acknowledged the established worship ; and that 
he consistently made use of certain fundamental 
notions of popular belief in his philosophy — we can 
hardly avoid the conclusion that, notwithstanding 
his personal emancipation from the existing re- 
ligion, he is a true representative of the Socratic 
reaction against sophistic. But we see, too, that 
there is a reservation in this reaction. In con- 
tinuity with earlier Greek thought on religion, it 
proceeded from the absolute definitions of the divine 
offered by popular belief, but when criticising anthro- 
pomorphism on this basis it did not after all avoid 
falling out with popular belief. How far each philo- 
sopher went in his antagonism was a matter of 
discretion, as also was the means chosen to recon- 
cile the philosophical with the popular view. The 
theology of the Socratic schools thus suffered from a 
certain half-heartedness ; in the main it has the 
character of a compromise. It would not give up 
the popular notions of the gods, and yet they were 
continually getting in the way. This dualism 
governs the whole of the succeeding Greek philo- 


DURING the three or four centuries which 
passed between the downfall of free Hellas 
and the beginning of the Roman Empire, 
great social and political changes took place in the 
ancient world, involving also vital changes in re- 
ligion. The chief phenomenon in this field, the 
invasion of foreign, especially oriental, religions 
into Hellas, does not come within the scope of this 
investigation. On the one hand, it is an expression 
of dissatisfaction with the old gods ; on the other, 
the intrusion of new gods would contribute to the 
ousting of the old ones. There is no question of 
atheism here ; it is only a change within poly- 
theism. But apart from this change there is evi- 
dence that the old faith had lost its hold on men's 
minds to no inconsiderable extent. Here, too, 
there is hardly any question of atheism properly 
speaking, but as a background to the — not very 
numerous — evidences of such atheism in our 
period, we cannot well ignore the decline of the 
popular faith. Our investigation is rendered diffi- 
cult on this point, and generally within this period, 
by the lack of direct evidence. Of the rich Hellen- 
istic literature almost everything has been lost, and 
we are restricted to reports and fragments. 

In order to gain a concrete starting-point we 


will begin with a quotation from the historian 
Polybius — so to speak the only Greek prose author 
of the earlier Hellenistic period of whose works 
considerable and connected portions are preserved. 
Polybius wrote in the latter half of the second cen- 
tury a history of the world in which Rome took the 
dominant place. Here he gave, among other things, 
a detailed description of the Roman constitution 
and thus came to touch upon the state of religion in 
Rome as compared with that in Greece. He says 
on this subject : 

" The greatest advantage of the Roman consti- 
tution seems to me to lie in its conception of the 
gods, and I believe that what among other peoples is 
despised is what holds together the Roman power 
— I mean superstition. For this feature has by 
them been developed so far in the direction of 
the ' horrible,' and has so permeated both private 
and public life, that it is quite unique. Many 
will perhaps find this strange, but I think they 
have acted so with an eye to the mass of the people. 
For if it were possible to compose a state of reason- 
able people such a procedure would no doubt be 
unnecessary, but as every people regarded as a mass 
is easily impressed and full of criminal instincts, 
unreasonable violence, and fierce passion, there is 
nothing to be done but to keep the masses under by 
vague fears and such-like hocus-pocus. Therefore 
it is my opinion that it was not without good 
reason or by mere chance that the ancients im- 
parted to the masses the notions of the gods and the 
underworld, but rather is it thoughtless and irra- 
tional when nowadays we seek to destroy them." 


As a proof of this last statement follows a com- 
parison between the state of public morals in Greece 
and in Rome. In Greece you cannot trust a man 
with a few hundred pounds without ten notaries and 
as many seals and double the number of witnesses ; 
in Rome great public treasure is administered with 
honesty merely under the safeguard of an oath. 

As we see, this passage contains direct evidence 
that in the second century in Hellas — in contra- 
distinction to Rome — there was an attempt to break 
down the belief in the gods. By his " we " Polybius 
evidently referred especially to the leading political 
circles. He knew these circles from personal ex- 
perience, and his testimony has all the more weight 
because he does not come forward in the role of the 
orthodox man complaining in the usual way of the 
impiety of his contemporaries ; on the contrary, he 
speaks as the educated and enlightened man to 
whom it is a matter of course that all this talk about 
the gods and the underworld is a myth which 
nobody among the better classes takes seriously. 
This is a tone we have not heard before, and it is a 
strong indirect testimony to the fact that Polybius 
is not wrong when he speaks of disbelief among the 
upper classes of Greece. 

In this connexion the work of Polybius has a 
certain interest on another point. Where earlier 
— and later — authors would speak of the inter- 
vention of the gods in the march of history, he 
operates as a rule with an idea which he calls 
Tyche. The word is untranslatable when used in 
this way. It is something between chance, fortune 
and fate. It is more comprehensive and more 


personal than chance ; it has not the immutable, 
the " lawbound " character of fate ; rather it 
denotes the incalculability, the capriciousness asso- 
ciated, especially in earlier usage, with the word 
fortune, but without the tendency of this word to 
be used in a good sense. 

This Tyche-religion — if we may use this ex- 
pression — was not new in Hellas. Quite early we 
find Tyche worshipped as a goddess among the 
other deities, and it is an old notion that the gods 
send good fortune, a notion which set its mark on a 
series of established phrases in private and public 
life. But what is of interest here is that shifting 
of religious ideas in the course of which Tyche 
drives the gods into the background. We find 
indications of it as early as Thucydides. In his view 
of history he lays the main stress, certainly, on 
human initiative, and not least on rational calcula-^ 
tion, as the cause of events. But where he is 
obliged to reckon with an element independent of 
human efforts, he calls it Tyche and not " the 
immortal gods." A somewhat similar view we find 
in another great political author of the stage of 
transition to our period, namely, Demosthenes. 
Demosthenes of course employs the official ap- 
paratus of gods : he invokes them on solemn 
occasions ; he quotes their authority in support of 
his assertions (once he even reported a revelation 
which he had in a dream) ; he calls his opponents 
enemies of the gods, etc. But in his political con- 
siderations the gods play a negligible part. The 
factors with which he reckons as a rule are merely 
political forces. Where he is compelled to bring 


forward elements which man cannot control, he 
shows a preference for Tyche. He certainly occa- 
sionally identifies her with the favour of the gods, 
but in such a way as to give the impression that it is 
only a fagon de parley. Direct pronouncements of 
a free-thinking kind one would not expect from an 
orator and statesman, and yet Demosthenes was 
once bold enough to say that Pythia, the mouth- 
piece of the Delphic Oracle, was a partisan of 
Macedonia, an utterance which his opponent 
Aeschines, who liked to parade his orthodoxy, 
did not omit to cast in his teeth. On the whole, 
Aeschines liked to represent Demosthenes as a 
godless fellow, and it is not perhaps without signifi- 
cance that the latter never directly replied to such 
attacks, or indirectly did anything to impair their 

During the violent revolutions that took place 
in Hellas under Alexander the Great and his suc- 
cessors, and the instability of social and political 
conditions consequent thereon, the Tyche-religion 
received a fresh impetus. With one stroke Hellas 
was flung into world politics. Everything grew 
to colossal proportions in comparison with earlier 
conditions. The small Hellenic city-states that 
had hitherto been each for itself a world shrank into 
nothing. It is as if the old gods could not keep 
pace with this violent process of expansion. Men 
felt a craving for a wider and more comprehensive 
religious concept to answer to the changed conditions, 
and such an idea was found in the idea of Tyche. 
Thoughtful men, such as Demetrius of Phalerum, 
wrote whole books about it ; states built temples to 


Tyche ; in private religion also it played a great 
part. No one reflected much on the relation of 
Tyche to the old gods. It must be remembered 
that Tyche is a real layman's notion, and that 
Hellenistic philosophy regarded it as its task pre- 
cisely to render man independent of the whims 
of fate. Sometimes, however, we find a positive 
statement of the view that Tyche ruled over the 
gods also. It is characteristic of the state of 
affairs ; men did not want to relinquish the old 
gods, but could not any longer allow them the 
leading place. 

If we return for a moment to Polybius, we shall 
find that his conception of Tyche strikingly illus- 
trates the distance between him and Thucydides. 
In the introduction to his work, on its first page, 
he points out that the universally acknowledged 
task of historical writing is partly to educate people 
for political activities, partly to teach them to bear 
the vicissitudes of fortune with fortitude by re- 
minding them of the lot of others. And subse- 
quently, when he passes on to his main theme, the 
foundation of the Roman world-empire, after having 
explained the plan of his work, he says : "So far 
then our plan. But the co-operation of fortune is 
still needed if my life is to be long enough for me to 
accomplish my purpose." An earlier — or a later — 
author would here either have left the higher powers 
out of the game altogether or would have used an 
expression showing more submission to the gods of 
the popular faith. 

In a later author, Pliny the Elder, we again find 
a characteristic utterance throwing light upon the 


significance of the Tyche-religion. After a very free- 
thinking survey of the popular notions regarding 
the gods, Phny says : " As an intermediate position 
between these two views (that there is a divine 
providence and that there is none) men have them- 
selves invented another divine power, in order that 
speculation about the deity might become still more 
uncertain. Throughout the world, in every place, 
at every hour of the day. Fortune alone is invoked 
and named by every mouth ; she alone is accused, 
she bears the guilt of everything ; of her only do we 
think, to her is all praise, to her all blame. And 
she is worshipped with railing words — she is deemed 
inconstant, by many even blind ; she is fickle, un- 
stable, uncertain, changeable ; giving her favours 
to the unworthy. To her is imputed every loss, 
every gain ; in all the accounts of life she alone fills 
up both the debit and the credit side, and we are so 
subject to chance that Chance itself becomes our 
god, and again proves the incertitude of the deity." 
Even if a great deal of this may be put down to 
rhetoric, by which Pliny was easily carried away, 
the solid fact itself remains that he felt justified in 
speaking as if Dame Fortune had dethroned all the 
old gods. 

That this view of life must have persisted very 
tenaciously even down to a time when a strong 
reaction in the direction of positive religious feeling 
had set in, is proved by the romances of the time. 
The novels of the ancients were in general poor 
productions. Most of them are made after the 
recipe of a little misfortune in each chapter and 
great happiness in the last. The two lovers meet, 


fall in love, part, and suffer a series of troubles 
individually until they are finally united. The 
power that governs their fates and shapes every- 
thing according to this pattern is regularly Tyche, 
never the gods. The testimony of the novels is of 
special significance because they were read by the 
general mass of the educated classes, not by the 
select who had philosophy to guide them. 

Another testimony to the weakening of popular 
faith in the Hellenistic age is the decay of the 
institution of the Oracle. This, also, is of early 
date ; as early as the fifth and fourth century we 
hear much less of the interference of the oracles in 
political matters than in earlier times. The most 
important of them all, the Delphic Oracle, was dealt 
a terrible blow in the Holy War (356-346 B.C.), when 
the Phocians seized it and used the treasures which 
had been accumulated in it during centuries to hire 
mercenaries and carry on war. Such proceedings 
would assuredly have been impossible a century 
earher ; no soldiers could have been hired with 
money acquired in such a way, or, if they could 
have been procured, all Hellas would have risen in 
arms against the robbers of the Temple, whereas 
in the Holy War most of the states were indifferent, 
and several even sided with the Phocians. In the 
succeeding years, after Philip of Macedonia had 
put an end to the Phocian scandal, the Oracle was 
in reality in his hands — it was during this period that 
Demosthenes stigmatised it as the mouthpiece of 
Philip. In the succeeding centuries, too, it was 
dependent on the various rulers of Hellas and un- 
doubtedly lost all public authority. During this 


period we hear very little of the oracles of Hellas 
until the time before and after the birth of Christ 
provides us with definite evidence of their com- 
plete decay. 

Thus Strabo, who wrote during the reign of 
Augustus, says that the ancients attached more 
importance to divination generally and oracles more 
particularly, whereas people in his day were quite 
indifferent to these things. He gives as the reason 
that the Romans were content to use the Sibylline 
books and their own system of divination. His 
remark is made a propos of the Oracle in Libya, 
which was formerly in great repute, but was almost 
extinct in his time. He is undoubtedly correct as 
to the fact, but the decline of the oracular system 
cannot be explained by the indifference of the 
Romans. Plutarch, in a monograph on the dis- 
continuance of the oracles, furnishes us with more 
detailed information. From this it appears that not 
only the Oracle of Ammon but also the numerous 
oracles of Boeotia had ceased to exist, with one 
exception, while even for the Oracle at Delphi, 
which had formerly employed three priestesses, a 
single one amply sufficed. We also note the remark 
that the questions submitted to the Oracle were 
mostly unworthy or of no importance. 

The want of consideration sometimes shown to 
sacred places and things during the wars of the 
Hellenistic period may no doubt also be regarded 
as the result of a weakening of interest in the old 
gods. We have detailed information on this point 
from the war between Philip of Macedonia and the 
AetoHans in 220-217 B.C. The Aetolians began by 


destroying the temples at Dium and Dodona, 
whereupon Philip retaliated by totally wrecking the 
federal sanctuary of the Aetolians at Thermon. Of 
Philip's admiral Dicaearchus we are told by Polybius 
that wherever he landed he erected altars to " god- 
lessness and lawlessness " and offered up sacrifice 
on them. Judging by the way he was hated, his 
practice must have answered to his theory. 

One more phenomenon must be mentioned in 
this context, though it falls outside the limits 
within which we have hitherto moved, and though 
its connexion with free-thought and religious en- 
lightenment will no doubt, on closer examination, 
prove disputable. This is the decay of the estab- 
lished worship of the Roman State in the later years 
of the Republic. 

In the preceding pages there has been no occa- 
sion to include conditions in Rome in our investiga- 
tion, simply because nothing has come down to us 
about atheism in the earlier days of Rome, and we 
may presume that it did not exist. Of any religious 
thought at Rome corresponding to that of the Greeks 
we hear nothing, nor did the Romans produce any 
philosophy. Whatever knowledge of philosophy 
there was at Rome was simply borrowed from the 
Greeks. The Greek influence was not seriously felt 
until the second century B.C., even though as early 
as about the middle of the third century the Romans, 
through the performance of plays translated from 
the Greek, made acquaintance with Greek dramatic 
poetry and the religious thought contained therein. 
Neither the latter, nor the heresies of the philo- 
sophers, seem to have made any deep impression 


upon them. Ennius, their most important poet of 
the second century, was no doubt strongly influenced 
by Greek free-thinking, but this was evidently an 
isolated phenomenon. Also, by birth Ennius was 
not a native of Rome but half a Greek. The 
testimony of Polybius (from the close of the second 
century) to Roman religious conservatism is emphatic 
enough. Its causes are doubtless of a complex 
nature, but as one of them the peculiar character of 
the Roman religion itself stands out prominently. 
However much it resembled Greek religion in 
externals — a resemblance which was strengthened 
by numerous loans both of religious rites and of 
deities — it is decidedly distinct from it in being 
restricted still more to cultus and, above all, in 
being entirely devoid of mythology. The Roman 
gods were powers about the rites of whose worship 
the most accurate details were known or could be 
ascertained if need were, but they had little per- 
sonality, and about their personal relations people 
knew little and cared less. This was, aesthetically, 
a great defect. The Roman gods afforded no good 
theme for poetry and art, and when they were to be 
used as such they were invariably replaced by loans 
from the Greeks. But, as in the face of Greek free- 
thought and Greek criticism of religion, they had the 
advantage that the vital point for attack was lack- 
ing. All the objectionable tales of the exploits of 
the gods and the associated ideas about their 
nature which had prompted the Greek attack on the 
popular faith simply did not exist in Roman religion. 
On the other hand, its rites were in many points more 
primitive than the Greek ones, but Greek philosophy 


had been very reserved in its criticism of ritual. 
We may thus no doubt take it for granted, though 
we have no direct evidence to that effect, that even 
Romans with a Greek education long regarded the 
Greek criticism of religion as something foreign 
which was none of their concern. 

That a time came when all this was changed ; 
that towards the end of the Republic great scepti- 
cism concerning the established religion of Rome 
was found among the upper classes, is beyond doubt, 
and we shall subsequently find occasion to consider 
this more closely. In this connexion another cir- 
cumstance demands attention, one which, moreover, 
has by some been associated with Greek influence 
among the upper classes, namely, the decay of the 
established worship of the Roman State during the 
last years of the Republic. Of the actual facts 
there can hardly be any doubt, though we know 
very little about them. The decisive symptoms 
are : that Augustus, after having taken over the 
government, had to repair some eighty dilapidated 
temples in Rome and reinstitute a series of religious 
rites and priesthoods which had ceased to function. 
Among them was one of the most important, that 
of the priest of Jupiter, an office which had been 
vacant for more than seventy-five years (87-11 B.C.), 
because it excluded the holder from a political career. 
Further, that complaints were made of private 
persons encroaching on places that were reserved 
for religious worship ; and that Varro, when writing 
his great work on the Roman religion, in many cases 
was unable to discover what god was the obj ect of an 
existing cult ; and generally, according to his own 


statement he wrote his work, among other things, 
in order to save great portions of the old Roman re- 
Hgion from falHng into utter obhvion on account of 
the indifference of the Romans themselves. It is 
obvious that such a state of affairs would have been 
impossible in a community where the traditional 
religion was a living power, not only formally ac- 
knowledged by everybody, but felt to be a necessary 
of life, the spiritual daily bread, as it were, of the 

To hold, however, that the main cause of the 
decay of the established religion of Rome was the 
invasion of Greek culture, together with the fact 
that the members of the Roman aristocracy, from 
whom the priests were recruited and who superin- 
tended the cult, had become indifferent to the tra- 
ditional religion through this influence, this, I think, 
is to go altogether astray. We may take it for 
granted that the governing classes in Rome would 
not have ventured to let the cult decay if there had 
been any serious interest in it among the masses of 
the population ; and it is equally certain that Greek 
philosophy and religious criticism did not penetrate 
to these masses. When they became indifferent to 
the national religion, this was due to causes that had 
nothing to do with free-thought. The old Roman 
religion was adapted for a small, narrow and homo- 
geneous community whose main constituent and 
real core consisted of the farmers, large and small, 
and minor artisans. In the last centuries of the 
Republic the social development had occasioned the 
complete decay of the Roman peasantry, and the 

free artisans had fared little better. In the place 


of the old Rome had arisen the capital of an empire, 
inhabited by a population of a million and of ex- 
traordinarily mixed composition. Not only did 
this population comprise a number of immigrant 
foreigners, but, in consequence of the pecuhar 
Roman rule that every slave on being set free 
attained citizenship, a large percentage of the 
citizens must of necessity have been of foreign 
origin. Only certain portions of the Roman religion, 
more especially the cult of the great central deities 
of the State religion, can have kept pace with these 
changed conditions ; the remainder had in reality lost 
all hold on Roman society as it had developed in 
process of time, and was only kept alive by force of 
habit. To this must be added the peculiar Roman 
mixture of mobility and conservatism in religious 
matters. The Roman superstition and uncertainty 
in regard to the gods led on the one hand to a 
continual setting up of new cults and new sanc- 
tuaries, and on the other hand to a fear of letting 
any of the old cults die out. In consequence thereof 
a great deal of dead and worthless ritual material 
must have accumulated in Rome in the course of 
centuries, and was of course in the way during the 
rapid development of the city in the last century 
of the Republic. Things must gradually have come 
to such a pass that a thorough reform, above all a 
reduction, of the whole cult had become a necessity. 
To introduce such a reform the republican govern- 
ment was just as unsuited as it was to carry out all 
the other tasks imposed by the development of the 
empire and the capital at that time. On this 
point, however, it must not be forgotten that the 


governing class not only lacked ability, for political 
reasons, to carry out serious reforms, but also the 
wiU to do so, on account of religious indifference, 
and so let things go altogether to the bad. The 
consequence was anarchy, in this as in all other 
spheres at that time ; but at the same time the 
tendency towards the only sensible issue, a restric- 
tion of the old Roman State-cult, is plainly evident. 
The simultaneous strong infusion of foreign re- 
ligions was unavoidable in the mixed population of 
the capital. That these influences also affected 
the lower classes of the citizens is at any rate a 
proof that they were not indifferent to religion. 

In its main outlines this is all the information 
that I have been able to glean about the general 
decline of the belief in the gods during the Hellen- 
istic period. Judging from such information we 
should expect to find strong tendencies to atheism 
in the philosophy of the period. These anticipations 
are, however, doomed to disappointment. The 
ruling philosophical schools on the whole preserved 
a friendly attitude towards the gods of the popular 
faith and especially towards their worship, although 
they only accepted the existing religion with strict 

Most characteristic but least consistent and 
original was the attitude of the Stoic school. The 
Stoics were pantheists. Their deity was a substance 
which they designated as fire, but which, it must be 
admitted, differed greatly from fire as an element. 
It permeated the entire world. It had produced the 
world out of itself, and it absorbed it again, and 
this process was repeated to eternity. The divine 


fire was also reason, and as such the cause of the 
harmony of the world-order. What of conscious 
reason was found in the world was part of the divine 

Though in this scheme of things there was in the 
abstract plenty of room for the gods of popular belief, 
nevertheless the Stoics did not in reality acknow- 
ledge them. In principle their standpoint was the 
same as Aristotle's. They supposed the heavenly 
bodies to be divine, but all the rest, namely, the 
anthropomorphic gods, were nothing to them. 

In their explanation of the origin of the gods they 
went beyond Aristotle, but their doctrine was not 
always the same on this point. The earlier Stoics 
regarded mythology and all theology as human 
inventions, but not arbitrary inventions. Myth- 
ology, they thought, should be understood allegori- 
cally ; it was the naive expression partly of a correct 
conception of Nature, partly of ethical and meta- 
physical truths. Strictly speaking, men had always 
been Stoics, though in an imperfect way. This 
point of view was elaborated in detail by the first 
Stoics, who took their stand partly on the earlier 
naturalism which had already broken the ground 
in this direction, and partly on sophistic, so that 
they even brought into vogue again the theory of 
Prodicus, that the gods were a hypostasis of the 
benefits of civilisation. Such a standpoint could 
not of course be maintained without arbitrariness 
and absurdities which exposed it to embarrassing 
criticism. This seems to have been the reason why 
the later Stoics, and expecially Poseidonius, took 
another road. They adopted the doctrine of 


Xenocrates with regard to demons and developed 
it in fantastic forms. The earUer method was not, 
however, given up, and at the time of Cicero we find 
both views represented in the doctrine of the school. 

Such is the appearance of the theory. In both 
its forms it is evidently an attempt to meet popular 
belief half-way from a standpoint which is really 
beyond it. This tendency is seen even more plainly 
in the practice of the Stoics. They recognised 
public worship and insisted on its advantages ; in 
their moral reflections they employed the gods as 
ideals in the Socratic manner, regardless of the fact 
that in their theory they did not really allow for 
gods who were ideal men ; nay, they even went the 
length of giving to their philosophical deity, the 
" universal reason," the name of Zeus by preference, 
though it had nothing but the name in common with 
the Olympian ruler of gods and men. This pervading 
ambiguity brought much well-deserved reproof on 
the Stoics even in ancient times ; but, however un- 
attractive it may seem to us, it is of significance as 
a manifestation of the great hold popular belief 
continued to have even on the minds of the upper 
classes, for it was to these that the Stoics appealed. 

Far more original and consistent is the Epi- 
curean attitude towards the popular faith. Epi- 
curus unreservedly acknowledged its foundation, 
i.e. the existence of anthropomorphic beings of a 
higher order than man. His gods had human 
shape but they were eternal and blessed. In the 
latter definition was included, according to the 
ethical ideal of Epicurus, the idea that the gods were 
free from every care, including taking an interest in 


nature or in human affairs. They were entirely 
outside the world, a fact to which Epicurus gave 
expression by placing them in the empty spaces 
between the infinite number of spherical worlds 
which he assumed. There his gods lived in bliss 
like ideal Epicureans. Lucretius, the only poet of 
this school, extolled them in splendid verse whose 
motif he borrowed from Homer's description of 
Olympus. In this way Epicurus also managed to 
uphold public worship itself. It could not, of 
course, have any practical aim, but it was justified 
as an expression of the respect man owed to beings 
whose existence expressed the human ideal. 

The reasons why Epicurus assumed this attitude 
towards popular belief are simple enough. He 
maintained that the evidence of sensual perception 
was the basis of all knowledge, and he thought that 
the senses (through dreams) gave evidence of the 
existence of the gods. And in the popular ideas of 
the bliss of the gods he found his ethical ideal 
directly confirmed. As regards their eternity the 
case was more difiicult. The basis of his system 
was the theory that everything was made of atoms 
and that only the atoms as such, not the bodies 
composed of the atoms, were eternal. ' He conceived 
the gods, too, as made of atoms, nevertheless he held 
that they were eternal. Any rational explanation 
of this postulate is not possible on Epicurus's 
hypotheses, and the criticism of his theology was 
^therefore especially directed against this point. 

Epicurus was the Greek philosopher who most 
consistently took the course of emphasising the 
popular dogma of the perfection of the gods in order 


to preser\^e the popular notions about them. And 
he was the philosopher to whom this would seem 
the most obvious course, because his ethical ideal — 
quietism — agreed with the oldest popular ideal of 
divine existence. In this way Epicureanism be- 
came the most orthodox of all Greek philosophical 
schools. ''If nevertheless Epicurus did not escape 
the charge of atheism the sole reason is that his 
whole theology was denounced off-hand as hypo- 
crisy. It was assumed to be set up by him only to 
shield himself against a charge of impiety, not to 
be his actual belief. This accusation is now uui- 
versally acknowledged to be unjustified, and the 
Epicureans had no difficulty in rebutting it with 
interest. They took special delight in pointing out 
that the theology of the other schools was much 
more remote from popular belief than theirs, nay, in 
spite of recognition of the existing religion, was in 
truth fundamentally at variance with it. But in 
reality their own was in no better case : gods who 
did not trouble in the least about human affairs were 
beings for whom popular belief had no use. It 
made no difference that Epicurus's definition of the 
nature of the gods was the direct outcome of a 
fundamental doctrine of popular belief. Popular 
religion will not tolerate pedantry. 

In this connexion we cannot well pass over a third 
philosophical school which played no inconspicuous 
role in the latter half of our period, namely. Scepti- 
cism. The Sceptic philosophy as such dates from 
Socrates, from whom the so-called Megarian school 
took its origin, but it did not reach its greatest 
importance until the second century, when the 


Academic school became Sceptic. It was especially 
the famous philosopher Carneades, a brilliant 
master of logic and dialectic, who made a success 
by his searching negative criticism of the doctrines 
of the other philosophical schools (the Dogmatics). 
For such criticism the theology of the philosophers 
was a grateful subject, and Carneades did not spare 
it. Here as in all the investigations of the Sceptics \ 
the theoretical result was that no scientific certainty 1 
could be attained : it was equally wrong to assert/^ 
or to deny the existence of the gods. But in practice 
the attitude of the Sceptics was quite different. 
Just as they behaved like other people, acting upon 
their immediate impressions and experience, though 
they did not believe that anything could be scientifi- 
cally proved, e.g. not even the reality of the world 
of the senses, so also did they acknowledge the 
existing cult and lived generally like good heathens. 
Characteristic though Scepticism be of a period of 
Greek spiritual life in which Greek thought lost its 
belief in itself, it was, however, very far from sup- 
porting atheism. On the contrary, according to the \ 
correct Sceptic doctrine atheism was a dogmatic ' 
contention which theoretically was as objectionable 
as its antithesis, and in practice was to be utterly , 

A more radical standpoint than this as regards 
the gods of the popular faith is not found during 
the Hellenistic period except among the less noted 
schools, and in the beginning of the period. We 
have already mentioned such thinkers as Strato, 
Theodorus, and Stilpo ; chronologically they be- 
long to the Hellenistic Age, but in virtue of their 


connexion with the Socratic philosophy they were 
dealt with in the last chapter. A definite polemical 
attitude towards the popular faith is also a charac- 
teristic of the Cynic school, hence, though our infor- 
mation is very meagre, we must speak of it a little 
more fully. 

The Cynics continued the tendency of Anti- 
sthenes, but the school comparatively soon lost its 
importance. After the third century we hear no 
more about the Cynics until they crop up again about 
the year a.d. igo. But in the fourth and third 
centuries the school had important representatives. 
The most famous is Diogenes ; his life, to be sure, 
is entangled in such a web of legend that it is diffi- 
cult to arrive at a true picture of his personality. 
Of his attitude towards popular belief we know one 
thing, that he did not take part in the worship of 
the gods. This was a general principle of the 
Cynics ; their argument was that the gods were " in 
need of nothing " (cf. above, pp. 60 and 41). If we 
find him accused of atheism, in an anecdote of very 
doubtful value, it may, if there is anything in it, 
be due to his rejection of worship. Of one of his 
successors, however, Bion of Borysthenes, we have 
authentic information that he denied the existence 
of the gods, with the edifying legend attached that 
he was converted before his death. But we also 
hear of Bion that he was a disciple of the atheist 
Theodorus, and other facts go to suggest that Bion 
united Cynic and Hedonistic principles in his mode 
of life — a compromise that was not so unlikely as 
might be supposed. Bion's attitude cannot there- 
fore be taken as typical of Cynicism. Another 


Cynic of about the same period (the beginning of the 
third century) was Menippus of Gadara (in northern 
Palestine). He wrote tales and dialogues in a 
mixture of prose and verse. The contents were 
satirical, the satire being directed against the con- 
temporary philosophers and their doctrines, and 
against the popular notions of the gods. Menippus 
availed himself partly of the old criticism of 
mythology and partly of the philosophical attacks 
on the popular conception of the gods. The only 
novelty was the facetious form in which he con- 
cealed the sting of serious criticism. It is impos- 
sible to decide whether he positively denied the 
existence of the gods, but his satire on the popular 
notions and its success among his contemporaries at 
least testifies to the weakening of the popular faith 
among the educated classes. In Hellas itself he seems 
to have gone out of fashion very early ; but the 
Romans took him up again ; Varro and Seneca 
imitated him, and Lucian made his name famous 
again in the Greek world in the second century after 
Christ. It is chiefly due to Lucian that we can form 
an idea of Menippus' s literary work, hence we shall 
return to Cynic satire in our chapter on the age of 
the Roman Empire. 

During our survey of Greek philosophical thought 
in the Hellenistic period we have only met with a 
few cases of atheism in the strict sense, and they all 
occur about and immediately after 300, though 
there does not seem to be any internal connexion 
between them. About the same time there ap- 
peared a writer, outside the circle of philosophers, 
who is regularly listed among the atheoi, and who 


has given a name to a peculiar theory about the 
origin of the idea of the gods, namely, Euhcmerus. 
He is said to have travelled extensively in the 
service of King Cassander of Macedonia. At any 
rate he published his theological views in the shape 
of a book of travel which was, however, wholly 
fiction. He relates how he came to an island, 
Panchaia, in the Indian Ocean, and in a temple 
there found a lengthy inscription in which Uranos, 
Kronos, Zeus and other gods recorded their exploits. 
The substance of the tale was that these gods had 
once been men, great kings and rulers, who had 
bestowed on their peoples all sorts of improvements 
in civilisation and had thus got themselves wor- 
shipped as gods. It appears from the accounts 
that Euhemerus supposed the heavenly bodies to be 
real and eternal gods — he thought that Uranos had 
first taught men to worship them ; further, as his 
theory is generally understood, it must be assumed 
that in his opinion the other gods had ceased to 
exist as such after their death. This accords with 
the fact that Euhemerus was generally characterised 
as an atheist. 

The theory that the gods were at first men was 
not originated by Euhemerus, though it takes its 
name (Euhemerism) from him. The theory had 
some support in the popular faith which recognised 
gods (Heracles, Asclepius) who had lived as men on 
earth ; and the opinion which was fundamental to 
Greek religion, that the gods had come into exist- 
ence, and had not existed from eternity, would 
favour this theory. Moreover, Euhemerus had had 
an immediate precursor in the slightly earlier 


Hecataeus of Abdera, who had set forth a similar 
theory, with the difference, however, that he took 
the view that all excellent men became real gods. 
But Euhemerus's theory appeared just at the 
right moment and fell on fertile soil. Alexander 
the Great and his successors had adopted the Oriental - 
policy by which the ruler was worshipped as a god, 
and were supported in this by a tendency which 
had already made itself felt occasionally among 
the Greeks in the East. Euhemerus only inverted 
matters — if the rulers were gods, it was an obvious 
inference that the gods were rulers. No wonder that 
his theory gained a large following. Its great in- 
fluence is seen from numerous similar attempts in 
the Hellenistic world. At Rome, in the second 
century, Ennius translated his works into Latin, 
and as late as the time of Augustus an author such 
as Diodorus, in his popular history of the world, 
served up Euhemerism as the best scientific ex- 1 
planation of the origin of religion. It is character- 
istic, too, that both Jews and Christians, in their 
attacks on Paganism, reckoned with Euhemerism 
as a well-established theory. As every one knows, 
it has survived to our day ; Carlyle, I suppose, 
being its last prominent exponent. 

It is characteristic of Euhemerism in its most 
radical form that it assumed that the gods of poly- 
theism did not exist ; so far it is atheism. But it 
is no less characteristic that it made the con- 
cession to popular belief that its gods had once 
existed. Hereby it takes its place, in spite of its 
greater radicalism, on the same plane with most 
other ancient theories about the origin of men's 


notions about the gods.\-^he gods of popular belief 
could not survive in the light of ancient thought, 
which in its essence was free-thought, not tied 
down by dogmas. But the philosophers of old could 
"hot but believe that a psychological fact of such 
enormous dimensions as ancient polytheism must 
have something answering to it in the objective 
world. Ancient philosophy never got clear of this \f 
dilemma ; hence Plato's open recognition of the 
absurdity ; hence Aristotle's delight at being able 
to meet the popular faith half-way in his assumption 
of the divinity of the heavenly bodies ; hence Xeno- 
crates's demons, the allegories of the Stoics, the 
ideal Epicureans of Epicurus, Euhemerus's early 
benefactors of mankind. And we may say that the 
more the Greeks got to know of the w^orld about them 
the more they were confirmed in their view, for in 
the varied multiplicity of polytheism they found the 
same principle everywhere, the same belief in a 
\v multitude of beings of a higher order than man. \ 

Euhemerus's theory is no doubt the last serious \ 
attempt in the old pagan world to give an explana- j 
tion of the popular faith which may be called ' 
genuine atheism. We will not, however, leave the } 
Hellenistic period without casting a glance at some 
personalities about whom we have information 
enough to form an idea at first hand of their re- 
ligious standpoint, and whose attitude towards 
popular belief at any rate comes very near to 
atheism pure and simple. 

One of them is Polybius. In the above-cited 
passage referring to the decline of the popular faith 
in the Hellenistic period, Polybius also gives his own 



theory of the origin of men's notions regarding the 
gods. It is not new. It is the theory known from 
the Critias fragment, what may be called the poli- 
tical theory. In the fragment it appears as atheism 
pure and simple, and it seems obvious to understand 
it in the same way in Polybius. That he shows a 
leaning towards Euhemerism in another passage 
where he speaks about the origin of religious ideas, is 
in itself not against this — the two theories are closely 
related and might very well be combined. But we 
have a series of passages in which Polybius expressed 
himself in a way that seems quite irreconcilable with 
a purely atheistic standpoint. He expressly ac- 
knowledged divination and worship as justified ; in 
several places he refers to disasters that have 
befallen individuals or a whole people as being sent 
by the gods, or even as a punishment for impiety ; 
and towards the close of his work he actually, in 
marked contrast to the tone of its beginning, offers 
up a prayer to the gods to grant him a happy ending 
to his long life. It would seem as if Polybius at a 
certain period of his life came under the influence of 
Stoicism and in consequence greatly modified his 
earlier views. That these were of an atheistic 
character seems, however, beyond doubt, and that 
is the decisive point in this connexion. 

Cicero's philosophical standpoint was that of an 
Academic, i.e. a Sceptic. But — in accord, for the 
rest, with the doctrines of the school just at this 
period — he employed his liberty as a Sceptic to 
favour such philosophical doctrines as seemed to 
him more reasonable than others, regardless of the 
school from which they were derived. In his 


philosophy of rehgion he was more especially a Stoic. 
He himself expressly insisted on this point of view 
in the closing words of his work on the Nature of 
the Gods. As he was not, and made no pretence 
of being, a philosopher, his philosophical expositions 
have no importance for us ; they are throughout 
second-hand, mostly mere translations from Greek 
sources. That we have employed them in the fore- 
going pages to throw light on the theology of the 
earlier, more especially the Hellenistic, philosophy, 
goes without saying. But his personal religious 
standpoint is not without interest. 

As orator and statesman Cicero took his stand 
wholly on the side of the established Roman rehgion, 
operating with the " immortal gods," with Jupiter 
Optimus Maximus, etc., at his convenience. In his 
works on the State and the Laws he adheres decidedly 
to the established religion. But all this is mere 
politics. Personally Cicero had no religion other 
than philosophy. Philosophy was his consolation 
in adversity, or he attempted to make it so, for 
the result was often indifferent ; and he looked to 
philosophy to guide him in ethical questions. We 
never find any indication in his writings that the 
gods of popular belief meant anything to him in these 
respects. And what is more — he assumed this off- 
hand to be the standpoint of everybody else, and 
evidently he was justified. A great number of 
letters from him to his circle, and not a few from his 
friends and acquaintances to him, have been pre- 
served ; and in his philosophical writings he often 
introduces contemporary Romans as characters in 
the dialogue. But in all this literature there is 


never the faintest indication that a Roman of the 
better class entertained, or could even be supposed 
to entertain, an orthodox view with regard to the 
State religion. To Cicero and his circle the popular 
faith did not exist as an element of their personal 

Such a standpoint is of course, practically speak- 
ing, atheism, and in this sense atheism was widely 
spread among the higher classes of the Graeco- 
Roman society about the time of the birth of Christ. 
But from this to theoretical atheism there is still 
a good step. Cicero himself affords an amusing 
example of how easily people, who have apparently 
quite emancipated themselves from the official re- 
ligion of their community, may backslide. When 
his beloved daughter Tullia died in the year 45 B.C., it 
became evident that Cicero, in the first violence of 
his grief, which was the more overwhelming because 
he was excluded from political activity during 
Cæsar's dictatorship, could not console himself with 
philosophy alone. He wanted something more 
tangible to take hold on, and so he hit upon the idea 
of having Tullia exalted among the gods. He 
thought of building a temple and instituting a cult 
in her honour. He moved heaven and earth to 
arrange the matter, sought to buy ground in a 
prominent place in Rome, and was willing to make 
the greatest pecuniary sacrifices to get a conspicuous 
result. Nothing came of it all, however ; Cicero's 
friends, who were to help him to put the matter 
through, were perhaps hardly so eager as he ; time 
assuaged his own grief, and finally he contented 
himself with publishing a consolatory epistle written 


by himself, or, correctly speaking, translated from a 
famous Greek work and adapted to the occasion. 
So far he ended where he should, i.e. in philosophy ; 
but the little incident is significant, not least 
because it shows what practical ends Euhemerism 
could be brought to serve and how doubtful was 
its atheistic character after all. For not only was 
the contemplated apotheosis of Tullia in itself a 
Euhemeristic idea, but Cicero also expressly de- 
fended it with Euhemeristic arguments, though 
speaking as if the departed who were worshipped as 
gods really had become gods. 

The attitude of Cicero and his contemporaries 
towards popular belief was still the general attitude 
in the first days of the Empire. It was of no avail 
that Augustus re-established the decayed State cult 
in all its splendour and variety, or that the poets 
during his reign, when they wished to express them- 
selves in harmony with the spirit of the new regime, 
directly or indirectly extolled the revived orthodoxy. 
Wherever we find personal religious feeling expressed 
by men of that time, in the Epistles of Horace, in 
Virgil's posthumous minor poems or in such pas- 
sages in his greater works where he expresses his own 
ideals, it is philosophy that is predominant and the 
official religion ignored. Virgil was an Epicurean ; 
Horace an Eclectic, now an Epicurean, then a Stoic ; 
Augustus had a domestic philosopher. Ovid em- 
ployed his genius in writing travesties of the old 
mythology while at the same time he composed a 
poem, serious for him, on the Roman cult ; and when 
disaster befell him and he was cast out from the 
society of the capital, which was the breath of life 


to him, he was abandoned not only by men, but also 
by the gods — he had not even a philosophy with 
which to console himself. It is only in inferior 
writers such as Valerius Maximus, who wrote a work 
on great deeds — good and evil — under Tiberius, that 
we find a different spirit. 

Direct utterances about men's relationship to 
the gods, from which conclusions can be drawn, are 
seldom met with during this period. The whole 
question was so remote from the thoughts of these 
people that they never mentioned it except when 
they assumed an orthodox air for political or 
aesthetic reasons. Still, here and there we come 
across something. One of the most significant 
pronouncements is that of Pliny the Elder, from 
whom we quoted the passage about the worship of 
Fortune. Pliny opens his scientific encyclopedia 
by explaining the structure of the universe in its 
broad features ; this he does on the lines of the 
physics of the Stoics, hence he designates the uni- 
verse as God. Next comes a survey of special 
theology. It is introduced as follows : "I therefore 
deem it a sign of human weakness to ask about the 
shape and form of God. Whoever God is, if any 
other god (than the universe) exists at all, and in 
whatever part of the world he is, he is all perception, 
all sight, all hearing, all soul, all reason, all self." 
The popular notions of the gods are then reviewed, 
in the most supercilious tone, and their absurdities 
pointed out. A polite bow is made to the worship 
of the Emperors and its motives, the rest is little 
but persiflage. Not even Providence, which was 
recognised by the Stoics, is acknowledged by 


Pliny. The conclusion is like the beginning : " To 
imperfect human nature it is a special consola- 
tion that God also is not omnipotent (he can 
neither put himself to death, even if he would, 
though he has given man that power and it is his 
choicest gift in this punishment which is life ; nor 
can he give immortality to mortals or call the dead 
to life ; nor can he bring it to pass that those who 
have lived have not lived, or that he who has held 
honourable offices did not hold them) ; and that he 
has no other power over the past than that of 
oblivion ; and that (in order that we may also give 
a jesting proof of our partnership with God) he 
cannot bring it about that twice ten is not twenty, 
and more of the same sort — by all which the power 
of Nature is clearly revealed, and that it is this we 
call God." 

An opinion like that expressed here must without 
doubt be designated as atheism, even though it is 
nothing but the Stoic pantheism logically carried 
out. As we have said before, we rarely meet it so 
directly expressed, but there can hardly be any 
doubt that even in the time of Pliny it was quite 
common in Rome. At this point, then, had the 
educated classes of the ancient world arrived under 
the influence of Hellenistic philosophy. y 


THOUGH the foundation of the Empire in 
many ways inaugurated a new era for the 
antique world, it is, of course, impossible, 
in an inquiry which is not confined to political 
history in the narrowest sense of the word, to 
operate with anything but the loosest chronological 
divisions. Accordingly in the last chapter we had 
to include phenomena from the early days of the 
Empire in order not to separate things which 
naturally belonged together. From the point of 
view of religious history the dividing line cannot 
possibly be drawn at the Emperor Augustus, in spite 
of his restoration of worship and the orthodox 
reaction in the official Augustan poetry, but rather 
at about the beginning of the second century. The 
enthusiasm of the Augustan Age for the good old 
times was never much more than affectation. It 
quickly evaporated when the promised millennium 
was not forthcoming, and was replaced by a reserve 
which developed into cynicism — but, be it under- 
stood, in the upper circles of the capital only. In 
the empire at large the development took its natural 
tranquil course, unaffected by the manner in which 
the old Roman nobility was effacing itself ; and this 
development did not tend towards atheism. 

The reaction towards positive religious feeling, 


which becomes clearly manifest in the second cen- 
tury after Christ, though the preparation for it is 
undoubtedly of earlier date, is perhaps the most 
remarkable phenomenon in the religious history of 
antiquity. This is not the place to inquire into 
its causes, which still remain largely unexplained ; 
there is even no reason to enter more closely into its 
outer manifestations, as the thing itself is doubted 
by nobody. It is sufficient to mention as instances 
authors like Suetonius, with his naive belief in 
miracles, and the rhetorician Aristides, with his 
Asclepius-cult and general sanctimoniousness ; or 
a minor figure such as Aelian, who wrote whole 
books of a pronounced, nay even fanatical, devotion- 
alism ; or within the sphere of philosophy move- 
ments like Neo-Pythagoreanism and Neo-Platonism, 
both of which are as much in the nature of mystic 
theology as attempts at a scientific explanation 
of the universe. It is characteristic, too, that an 
essentially anti-religious school like that of the 
Epicureans actually dies out at this time. Under 
these conditions our task in this chapter must be to 
bring out the comparatively few and weak traces of 
other currents which still made themselves felt. 

Of the earlier philosophical schools Stoicism 
flowered afresh in the second century ; the Em- 
peror Marcus Aurelius himself was a prominent 
adherent of the creed. This later Stoicism differs, 
however, somewhat from the earlier. It limits the 
scientific apparatus which the early Stoics had 
operated with to a minimum, and is almost ex- 
clusively concerned with practical ethics on a 
religious basis. Its religion is that of ordinary 


Stoicism : Pantheism and belief in Providence. 
But, on the whole, it takes up a more sympa- 
thetic attitude towards popular religion than early 
Stoicism had done. Of the bitter criticism of the 
absurdities of the worship of the gods and of 
mythology which is still to be met with as late as 
Seneca, nothing remains. On the contrary, partici- 
pation in public worship is still enjoined as being a 
duty ; nay, more : attacks on belief in the gods — in 
the plain popular sense of the word — are denounced 
as pernicious and reprehensible. Perhaps no clearer 
proof could be adduced of the revolution which 
had taken place in the attitude of the educated 
classes towards popular religion than this change 
of front on the part of Stoicism. 

Contrary to this was the attitude of another 
school which was in vogue at the same time as 
the Stoic, namely, the Cynic. Between Cynicism 
and popular belief strained relations had existed 
since early times. It is true, the Cynics did not 
altogether deny the existence of the gods ; but they 
rejected worship on the ground that the gods were 
not in need of anything, and they denied categori- 
cally the majority of the popular ideas about the 
gods. For the latter were, in fact, popular and 
traditional, and the whole aim of the Cynics was 
to antagonise the current estimate of values. A 
characteristic instance of their manner is provided 
by this very period in the fragments of the work of 
Oenomaus. The work was entitled The Swindlers 
Unmasked, and it contained a violent attack on 
oracles. Its tone is exceedingly pungent. In the 
extant fragments Oenomaus addresses the god in 


Delphi and overwhelms him with insults. But we 
are expressly told — and one utterance of Ocnomaus 
himself verifies it — that the attack was not really 
directed against the god, but against the men who 
gave oracles in his name. In his opinion the whole 
thing was a priestly fraud — a view which otherwise 
was rather unfamiliar to the ancients, but played 
an important part later. Incidentally there is a 
violent attack on idolatry. The work is not without 
acuteness of thought and a certain coarse wit of the 
true Cynical kind ; but it is entirely uncritical 
(oracles are used which are evidently inventions of 
later times) and of no great significance. It is even 
difficult to avoid the impression that the author's 
aim is in some degree to create a sensation. Cynics 
of that day were not strangers to that kind of thing. 
But it is at any rate a proof of the fact that there 
were at the time tendencies opposed to the religious 

A more significant phenomenon of the same kind 
is to be found in the writings of Lucian. Lucian was 
by education a rhetorician, by profession an itinerant 
lecturer and essayist. At a certain stage of his life 
he became acquainted with the Cynic philosophy 
and for some time felt much attracted to it. From 
that he evidently acquired a sincere contempt of 
the vulgar superstition which flourished in his 
time, even in circles of which one might have 
expected something better. In writings which for 
the greater part belong to his later period, he 
pilloried individuals who traded (or seemed to trade) 
in the rehgious ferment of the time, as well as 
satirised superstition as such. In this way he 


made an important contribution to the spiritual 
history of the age. But simultaneously he pro- 
duced, for the entertainment of his public, a series of 
writings the aim of which is to make fun of the 
Olympian gods. In this work also he leant on the 
literature of the Cynics, but substituted for their 
grave and biting satire light causeries or slight 
dramatic sketches, in which his wit — for Lucian 
was really witty — had full scope. As an instance 
of his manner I shall quote a short passage from the 
dialogue Timon. It is Zeus who speaks ; he has 
given Hermes orders to send the god of wealth to 
Timon, who has wasted his fortune by his liberality 
and is now abandoned by his false friends. Then 
he goes on : " As to the flatterers you speak of and 
their ingratitude, I shall deal with them another 
time, and they will meet with their due punishment 
as soon as I have had my thunderbolt repaired. 
The two largest darts of it were broken and blunted 
the other day when I got in a rage and flung it at the 
sophist Anaxagoras, who was trying to make his 
disciples believe that we gods do not exist at all. 
However, I missed him, for Pericles held his hand 
over him, but the bolt struck the temple of the 
Dioscuri and set fire to it, and the bolt itself was 
nearly destroyed when it struck the rock." This 
sort of thing abounds in Lucian, even if it is not 
always equally amusing and to the point. Now 
there is nothing strange in the fact that a witty man 
for once should feel inclined to make game of the old 
mythology ; this might have happened almost at 
any time, once the critical spirit had been awakened. 
But that a man, and moreover an essayist, who had 


to live by the approval of his public, should 
make it his trade, as it were, and that at a time 
of vigorous religious reaction, seems more difficult 
to account for. Lucian's controversial pamphlets 
against superstition cannot be classed off-hand with 
his Dialogues of the Gods ; the latter are of a quite 
different and far more harmless character. The fact 
is rather that mythology at this time was fair game. 
It was cut off from its connexion with religion — a 
connexion which in historical times was never very 
intimate and was now entirely severed. This had 
been brought about in part by centuries of criticism 
of the most varied kind, in part precisely as a result 
of the religious reaction which had now set in. If 
people turned during this time to the old gods — who, 
however, had been considerably contaminated with 
new elements — it was because they had nothing 
else to turn to ; but what they now looked for was 
something quite different from the old religion. 
The powerful tradition which had bound members 
of each small community — we should say, of each 
township — to its familiar gods, with all that belonged 
to them, was now in process of dissolution ; in the 
larger cities of the world-empire with their mixed 
populations it had entirely disappeared. Religion 
was no longer primarily a concern of society ; it was 
a personal matter. In the face of the enormous 
selection of gods which ancient paganism came 
gradually to proffer, the individual was free to 
choose, as individual or as a member of a com- 
munion based upon religious, not political, sympathy. 
Under these circumstances the existence of the gods 
and their power and will to help their worshippers 


was the only thing of interest ; all the old tales about 
them were more than ever myths of no religious 
value. On closer inspection Lucian indeed proves 
to have exercised a certain selection in his satire. 
Gods like Asclepius and Serapis, who were popular 
in his day, he prefers to say nothing about ; and 
even with a phenomenon like Christianity he deals 
cautiously ; he sticks to the old Olympian gods. Thus 
his derision of these constitutes an indirect proof 
that they had gone out of vogue, and his forbear- 
ance on other points is a proof of the power of the 
current religion over contemporary minds. As to 
ascribing any deeper religious conviction to Lucian — 
were it even of a purely negative kind — that is, in view 
of the whole character of his work, out of the ques- 
tion. To be sure, his polemical pamphlets against 
superstition show clearly, like those of Oenomaus, that 
the religious reaction did not run its course without 
criticism from certain sides ; but even here it is sig- 
nificant that the criticism comes from a professional 
jester and not from a serious religious thinker. 

A few words remain to be said about the two 
monotheistic religions which in the days of the 
Roman Empire came to play a great, one of them 
indeed a decisive, part. I have already referred 
to pagan society's attitude towards Judaism and 
Christianity, and pointed out that the adherents of 
both were designated and treated as atheists — the 
Jews only occasionally and with certain reservations, 
the Christians nearly always and unconditionally. 
The question here is, how far this designation was 
justified according to the definition of atheism which 
is the basis of our inquiry. 


In the preceding pages we have several times re- 
ferred to the fact that the real enemy of Polytheism 
is not the philosophical theology, which generally 
tends more or less towards Pantheism, but Mono- 
theism. It is in keeping with this that the Jews and 
the Christians in practice are downright deniers of 
the pagan gods : they would not worship them ; 
whereas the Greek philosophers as a rule respected 
worship, however far they went in their criticism of 
men's ideas of the gods. We shall not dwell here on 
this aspect of the matter ; we are concerned with 
the theory only. Detailed expositions of it occur 
in numerous writings, from the passages in the Old 
Testament where heathenism is attacked, to the 
defences of Christianity by the latest Fathers of the 

The original Jewish view, according to which the 
heathen gods are real beings just as much as the 
God of the Jews themselves — only Jews must not 
worship them — is in the later portions of the Old 
Testament superseded by the view that the gods are 
only images made of wood, stone or metal, and in- 
capable of doing either good or evil. This point of 
view is taken over by later Jewish authors and 
completely dominates them. In those acquainted 
with Greek thought it is combined with Euhemer- 
istic ideas : the images represent dead men. The 
theory that the gods are really natural objects — 
elements or heavenly bodies — is occasionally taken 
into account too. Alongside of these opinions there 
appears also the view that the pagan gods are evil 
spirits (demons). It is already found in a few places 
in the Old Testament, and after that sporadically 


and quite incidentally in later Jewish writings ; in 
one place it is combined with the Old Testament's 
account of the fallen angels. The demon-theory 
is not an instrument of Jewish apologetics proper, 
not even of Philo, though he has a complete demon- 
ology and can hardly have been ignorant of the 
Platonic-Stoic doctrine of demons. 

Apart from the few and, as it were, incidental 
utterances concerning demons, the Jewish view of / 
the pagan gods impresses one as decidedly atheistic. 
The god is identical with the idol, and the idol is a 
dead object, the work of men's hands, or the god 
is identical with a natural object, made by God to 
be sure, but without soul or, at any rate, without 
divinity. It is remarkable that no Jewish contro- 
versialist seriously envisaged the problem of the 
real view of the gods embodied in the popular belief 
of the ancients, namely, that they are personal 
beings of a higher order than man. It is inconceiv- 
able that men like Philo, Josephus and the author of 
the Wisdom of Solomon should have been ignorant 
of it. I know nothing to account for this curious 
phenomenon ; and till some light has been thrown 
upon the matter, I should hesitate to assert thatx 
the Jewish conception of Polytheism was purely 
atheistic, however much appearance it may have 
of being so. 

It was otherwise with Christian polemical writ- 
ing. As early as St. Paul the demon-theory appears 
distinctly, though side by side with utterances of 
seemingly atheistic character. Other New Testa- 
ment authors, too, designate the gods as demons. 
The subsequent apologists, excepting the earliest. 


Aristides, lay the main stress on demonology, but 
include for the sake of completeness idolatry and 
the like, sometimes without caring about or trying 
to conciliate the contradictions. In the long run 
demonology is victorious ; in St. Augustine, the fore- 
most among Christian apologists, there is hardly 
any other point of view that counts. 

To trace the Christian demonology in detail and 
give an account of its various aspects is outside the 
scope of this essay. Its origin is a twofold one, 
partly the Jewish demonology, which just at the 
commencement of our era had received a great 
impetus, partly the theory of the Greek philosophers, 
which we have characterised above when speaking 
of Xenocrates. The Christian doctrine regarding 
demons differs from the latter, especially by the fact 
that it does not acknowledge good demons ; they 
were all evil. This was the indispensable basis for 
the interdict against the worship of demons ; in 
its further development the Christians, following 
Jewish tradition, pointed to an origin in the fallen 
angels, and thus effected a connexion with the Old 
Testament. While they at the same time retained 
its angelology they had to distinguish good and 
evil beings intermediate between god and man ; 
but they carefully avoided designating the angels 
as demons, and kept them distinct from the pagan 
gods, who were all demons and evil. 

The application of demonology to the pagan 
worship caused certain difficulties in detail. To be 
sure, it was possible to identify a given pagan god 
with a certain demon, and this was often done ; but 
it was impossible to identify the Pagans' conceptions 


of their gods with the Christians' conceptions of 
demons. The Pagans, in fact, ascribed to their 
gods not only demoniac (diabohcal) but also divine 
qualities, which the Christians absolutely denied 
them. Consequently they had to recognise that 
pagan worship to a great extent rested on a delusion, 
on a misconception of the essential character of the 
gods which were worshipped. This view was cor- 
roborated by the dogma of the fallen angels, which 
was altogether alien to paganism. By identifying 
them with the evil spirits of the Bible, demon- 
names were even obtained which differed from those 
of the pagan gods and, of course, were the correct 
ones ; were they not given in Holy Writ ? In 
general, the Christians, who possessed an authentic 
revelation of the matter, were of course much better 
informed about the nature of the pagan gods than 
the Pagans themselves, who were groping in the 
dark. Euhemerism, which plays a great part in the 
apologists, helped in the same direction : the sup- 
position that the idols were originally men existed 
among the Pagans themselves, and it was too much 
in harmony with the tendency of the apologists to 
be left unemployed. It was reconciled with demon- 
ology by the supposition that the demons had 
assumed the masks of dead heroes ; they had be- 
guiled mankind to worship them in order to possess 
themselves of the sacrifices, which they always 
coveted, and by this deception to be able to rule and 
corrupt men. The Christians also could not avoid 
recognising that part of the pagan worship was 
worship of natural objects, in particular of the 
heavenly bodies ; and^this error of worshipping the 


" creation instead of the creator " was so obvious 
that the Christians were not inclined to resort to 
demonology for an explanation of this phenomenon, 
the less so as they could not identify the sun or the 
moon with a demon. The conflict of these different 
points of view accounts for the peculiar vacillation 
in the Christian conception of paganism. On one 
hand, we meet with crude conceptions, according to 
which the pagan gods are just like so many demons ; 
they are specially prominent when pagan miracles 
and prophecies are to be explained. On the other 
hand, there is a train of thought which carried to its 
logical conclusion would lead to conceiving paganism 
as a whole as a huge delusion of humanity, but a 
delusion caused indeed by supernatural agencies. 
This conclusion hardly presented itself to the early 
Church ; later, however, it was drawn and caused 
a not inconsiderable shifting in men's views and 
explanations of paganism. 

Demonology is to such a degree the ruling point 
of view in Christian apologetics that it would be 
absurd to make a collection from these writings of 
utterances with an atheistic ring. Such utterances 
are to be found in most of them ; they appear 
spontaneously, for instance, wherever idolatry is 
attacked. But one cannot attach any importance 
to them when they appear in this connexion, not 
even in apologists in whose works the demon theory 
is lacking. No Christian theologian in antiquity 
advanced, much less sustained, the view that the 
pagan gods were mere phantoms of human imagina- 
tion without any corresponding reality. 

Remarkable as this state of things may appear 


to us moderns, it is really quite simple, nay even a 
matter of course, when regarded historically. Chris- 
tianity had from its very beginning a decidedly 
dualistic character. The contrast between this 
world and the world to come was identical with 
the contrast between the kingdom of the Devil 
and the kingdom of God. As soon as the new re- 
ligion came into contact with paganism, the latter 
was necessarily regarded as belonging to the king- 
dom of the Devil ; thus the conception of the gods as 
demons was a foregone conclusion. In the minds of 
the later apologists, who became acquainted with 
Greek philosophy, this conception received addi- 
tional confirmation ; did it not indeed agree in the 
main with Platonic and Stoic theory ? Details were 
added : the Christians could not deny the pagan 
miracles without throwing a doubt on their own, 
for miracles cannot be done away with at all except 
by a denial on principle ; neither could they explain 
paganism — that gigantic, millennial aberration of 
humanity — by merely human causes, much less lay 
the blame on God alone. But ultimately all this 
rests on one and the same thing — the supernatural 
and dualistic hypothesis. Consequently demon- 
ology is the kernel of the Christian conception of 
paganism : it is not merely a natural result of the 
hypotheses, it is the one and only correct expression 
of the way in which the new religion understood the 


IN the preceding inquiry we took as our starting- 
point not the ancient conception of atheism 
but the modern view of the nature of the 
pagan gods. It proved that this view was, upon 
the whole, feebly represented during antiquity, and 
that it was another view (demonology) which was 
transmitted to later ages from the closing years of 
antiquity. The inquiry will therefore find its 
natural conclusion in a demonstration of the time 
and manner in which the conception handed down 
from antiquity of the nature of paganism was super- 
seded and displaced by the modern view. 

This question is, however, more difhcult to 
answer than one would perhaps think. After 
ancient paganism had ceased to exist as a living 
religion, it had lost its practical interest, and 
theoretically the Middle Ages were occupied with 
quite other problems than the nature of paganism. 
At the revival of the study of ancient literature, 
during the Renaissance, people certainly again 
came into the most intimate contact with ancient 
religion itself, but systematic investigations of its 
nature do not seem to have been taken up in 
real earnest until after the middle of the sixteenth 
century. It is therefore difficult to ascertain in what 
light paganism was regarded during the thousand 


years which had then passed since its final extinction. 
From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on 
the other hand, the material is extraordinarily 
plentiful, though but slightly investigated. Pre- 
vious works in this field seem to be entirely wanting ; 
at any rate it has not been possible for me to find 
any collective treatment of the subject, nor even 
any contributions worth mentioning towards the 
solution of the numerous individual problems 
which arise when we enter upon what might be 
called " the history of the history of religion." ^ In 
this essay I must therefore restrict myself to a few 
aphoristic remarks which may perhaps give occasion 
for this subject, in itself not devoid of interest, to 
receive more detailed treatment at some future time. 
Milton, in the beginning of Paradise Lost, which 
appeared in 1667, makes Satan assemble all his 
angels for continued battle against God. Among 
the demons there enumerated, ancient gods also 
appear ; they are, then, plainly regarded as devils. 
Now Milton was not only a poet, but also a sound 
scholar and an orthodox theologian ; we may there- 
fore rest assured that his conception of the pagan 
gods was dogmatically correct and in accord with 
the prevailing views of his time. In him, therefore, 
we have found a fixed point from which we can 
look forwards and backwards ; as late as after 
the middle of the seventeenth century the early 
Christian view of the nature of paganism evidently 
persisted in leading circles. 

1 This was written before the appearance of Mr. Gruppe's work, 
Geschichte der klassischen Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte. Compare 
infra, p. 154. 


We seldom find definite heathen gods so pre- 
cisely designated as demons as in Milton, but no 
doubt seems possible that the general principle 
was accepted by contemporary and earlier authors. 
The chief work of the seventeenth century on ancient 
religion is the De Theologia Gentili of G. I. Voss ; he 
operates entirely with the traditional view. It may 
be traced back through a succession of writings of 
the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries. They are 
all, or almost all, agreed that antique paganism was 
the work of the devil, and that idolatry was, at any 
rate in part, a worship of demons. From the 
Middle Ages I can adduce a pregnant expression of 
the same view from Thomas Aquinas ; in his treat- 
ment of idolatry and also of false prophecy he 
definitely accepts the demonology of the early 
Church. On this point he appeals to Augustine, 
and with perfect right ; from this it may presumably 
be assumed that the Schoolmen in general had the 
same view, Augustine being, as we know, an auth- 
ority for Catholic theologians. 

In mediaeval poets also we occasionally find the 
same view expressed. As far as I have been able to 
ascertain, Dante has no ancient gods among his 
devils, and the degree to which he had dissociated 
himself from ancient paganism may be gauged by the 
fact that in one of the most impassioned passages of 
his poem he addresses the Christian God as " Great 
Jupiter." But he allows figures of ancient myth- 
ology such as Charon, Minos and Geryon to appear 
in his infernal world, and when he designates the 
pagan gods as " false and untruthful," demonology 
is evidently at the back of his mind. The mediaeval 


epic poets who dealt with antique subjects took over 
the pagan gods more or less. Sometimes, as in the 
Romance of Troy, the Christian veneer is so thick that 
the pagan groundwork is but slightly apparent ; in 
other poems, such as the adaptation of the Aeneid, 
it is more in evidence. In so far as the gods are 
not eliminated they seem as a rule to be taken 
over quite naively from the source without further 
comment ; but occasionally the poet expresses his 
view of their nature. Thus the French adapter of 
Statius's Thebats, in whose work the Christian 
element is otherwise not prominent, cautiously 
remarks that Jupiter and Tisiphone, by whom his 
heroes swear, are in reality only devils. Generally 
speaking, the gods of antiquity are often designated 
as devils in mediaeval poetry, but at times the 
opinion that they are departed human beings crops 
up. Thus, as we might expect, the theories of 
ancient times still survive and retain their sway. 

There is a domain in which we might expect to 
find distinct traces of the survival of the ancient 
gods in the mediaeval popular consciousness, 
namely, that of magic. There does not, however, 
seem to be much in it ; the forms of mediaeval magic 
often go back to antiquity, but the beings it operates 
with are pre-eminently the Christian devils, if we 
may venture to employ the term, and the evil spirits 
of popular belief. There is, however, extant a col- 
lection of magic formulae against various ailments 
in which pagan gods appear : Hercules and Juno 
Regina, Juno and Jupiter, the nymphs, Luna Jovis 
filia, Sol invictus. The collection is transmitted in 
a manuscript of the ninth century ; the formulae 


mostly convey the impression of dating from a much 
eadier period, but the fact that they were copied in 
the Middle Ages suggests that they were intended 
for practical application. 

A problem, the closer investigation of which 
would no doubt yield an interesting result, but which 
does not seem to have been much noticed, is the 
European conception of the heathen religions with 
which the explorers came into contact on their 
great voyages of discovery. Primitive heathenism 
as a living reality had lain rather beyond the 
horizon of the Middle Ages ; when it was met with 
in America, it evidently awakened considerable 
interest. There is a description of the religion of 
Peru and Mexico, written by the Jesuit Acosta at 
the close of the sixteenth century, which gives us 
a clear insight into the orthodox view of heathen- 
ism during the Renaissance. According to Acosta, 
heathenism is as a whole the work of the Devil ; he 
has seduced men to idolatry in order that he himself 
may be worshipped instead of the true God. All wor- 
ship of idols is in reality worship of Satan. The 
individual idols, however, are not identified with 
individual devils ; Acosta distinguishes between the 
worship of nature (heavenly bodies, natural objects 
of the earth, right down to trees, etc.), the worship 
of the dead, and the worship of images, but says 
nothing about the worship of demons. At one 
point only is there a direct intervention of the evil 
powers, namely, in magic, and particularly in 
oracles ; and here then we find, as an exception, 
mention of individual devils which must be 
imagined to inhabit the idols. The same con- 


ception is found again as late as the seventeenth 
century in a story told by G. I. Voss of the 
time of the Dutch wars in Brazil. Arcissewski, 
a Polish officer serving in the Dutch army, 
had witnessed the conjuring of a devil among the 
Tapuis. The demon made his appearance all right, 
but proved to be a native well known to Arcissewski. 
As he, however, made some true prognostications, 
Voss, as it seems at variance with Arcissewski, 
thinks that there must have been some super- 
natural powers concerned in the game. 

An exceptional place is occupied by the attempt 
made during the Renaissance at an actual revival of 
ancient paganism and the worship of its gods. It 
proceeded from Plethon, the head of the Florentine 
Academy, and seems to have spread thence to the 
Roman Academy. The whole movement must be 
viewed more particularly as an outcome of the 
enthusiasm during the Renaissance for the culture 
of antiquity and more especially for its philosophy 
rather than its religion ; the gods worshipped were 
given a new and strongly philosophical interpreta- 
tion. But it is not improbable that the traditional 
theory of the reality of the ancient deities may have 
had something to do with it. 

Simultaneously with demonology, and while it 
was still acknowledged in principle, there flourished 
more naturalistic conceptions of paganism, both in 
the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. As 
remarked above, the way was already prepared for 
them during antiquity. In Thomas Aquinas we find 
a lucid explanation of the origin of idolatry with a 
reference to the ancient theory. Here we meet 


with the familiar elements : the worship of the stars 
and the cult of the dead. According to Thomas, 
man has a natural disposition towards this error, 
but it only comes into play when he is led astray by 
demons. In the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies the Devil is mentioned oftener than the 
demons (compare Acosta's view of the heathenism 
of the American Indians) ; evidently the conception 
of the nature of evil had undergone a change in the 
direction of monotheism. In this way more scope 
was given for the adoption of naturalistic views in 
regard to the individual forms in which paganism 
manifested itself than when dealing with a multi- 
plicity of demons that answered individually to the 
pagan gods, and we meet with systematic attempts 
to explain the origin of idolatry by natural means, 
though still with the Devil in the background. 

One of these systems, which played a prominent 
part, especially in the seventeenth century, is the 
so-called Hebraism, i.e. the attempt to derive the 
whole of paganism from Judaism. This fashion, 
for which the way had already been prepared by 
Jewish and Christian apologists, reaches its climax, 
I think, with Abbot Huet, who derived all the gods 
of antiquity (and not only Greek and Roman 
antiquity) from Moses, and all the goddesses from 
his sister ; according to him the knowledge of these 
two persons had spread from the Jews to other 
peoples, who had woven about them a web of 
" fables." Alongside of Hebraism, which is Eu- 
hemeristic in principle, allegorical methods of 
interpretation were put forward. The chief repre- 
sentative of this tendency in earlier times is Natalis 


Comes (Noel du Comte), the author of the first 
handbook of mythology ; he directly set himself the 
task of allegorising all the myths. The allegories 
are mostly moral, but also physical ; Euhemeristic 
interpretations are not rejected either, and in several 
places the author gives all three explanations side 
by side without choosing between them. In the 
footsteps of du Comte follows Bacon, in his De 
Sapientia Veterum ; to the moral and physical 
allegories he adds political ones, as when Jove's 
struggle with Typhoeus is made to symbolise a wise 
ruler's treatment of a rebellion. While these at- 
tempts at interpretation, both the Euhemeristic and 
the allegorical, are in principle a direct continuation 
of those of antiquity, another method points plainly 
in the direction of the fantastic notions of the 
Middle Ages. As early as the sixteenth century the 
idea arose of connecting the theology of the ancients 
with alchemy. The idea seemed obvious because the 
metals were designated by the names of the planets, 
which are also the names of the gods. It found 
acceptance, and in the seventeenth century we have 
a series of writings in which ancient mythology is 
explained as the symbolical language of chemical 

Within the limits of the supernatural explanation 
the interest centred more and more in a single point : 
the oracles. As far back as in Aquinas, " false 
prophecy " is a main section in the chapter on 
demons, whose power to foretell the future he 
expressly acknowledges. In the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries, when the interest in the pre- 
diction of the future was so strong, the ancient 


accounts of true prognostications were the real prop 
of demonology. Hence demons generally play a 
great part in these explanations, even though in 
other cases the Devil fills the bill. Thus Acosta in 
his account of the American religions ; thus Voss and 
numerous other writers of the seventeenth century ; 
and it is hardly a mere accident, one would think, 
when Milton specially mentions Dodona and Delphi 
as the seats of worship of the Greek demons. 
Among a few of the humanists we certainly find an 
attempt to apply the natural explanation even 
here ; thus Caelius Rhodiginus asserted that a 
great part (but not all !) of the oracular system 
might be explained as priestly imposture, and his 
slightly younger contemporary Caelius Calcagninus, 
in his dialogue on oracles, seems to go still further 
and to deny the power of predicting the future to 
any other being than the true God. An exceptional 
position is occupied by Pomponazzi, who in his little 
pamphlet De Incantationihus seems to wish to de- 
rive all magic, including the oracles, from natural 
causes, though ultimately he formally acknowledges 
demonology as the authoritative explanation. But 
these advances did not find acceptance ; we find 
even Voss combating the view on which they were 
founded. It is characteristic of the power of demon- 
ology in this domain that in support of his point of 
view he can quote no less a writer than Machiavelli. 
The author who opened battle in real earnest 
against demonology was a Dutch scholar, one 
van Dale, otherwise little known. In a couple of 
treatises written about the close of the seventeenth 
century he tried to show that the whole of idolatry 


(as well as the oracles in particular) was not depen- 
dent on the intervention of supernatural beings, but 
was solely due to imposture on the part of the priests. 
Van Dale was a Protestant, so he easily got over 
the unanimous recognition of demonology by the 
Fathers of the Church. The accounts of demons in 
the Old and New Testaments proved more difficult 
to deal with ; it is interesting to see how he wriggles 
about to get round them — and it illustrates most 
instructively the degree to which demonology affords 
the only reasonable and natural explanation of 
paganism on the basis of early Christian belief. 

Van Dale's books are learned works written in 
Latin, full of quotations in Latin, Greek, and 
Hebrew, and moreover confused and obscure in 
exposition, as is often the case with Dutch writings 
of that time. But a clever Frenchman, Fontenelle, 
took upon himself the task of rendering his work on 
the oracles into French in a popular and attractive 
form. His book called forth an answering pamphlet 
from a Jesuit advocating the traditional view ; the 
little controversy seems to have made some stir in 
France about the year 1700. At any rate Banier, 
who, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, 
treated ancient mythology from a Euhemeristic 
point of view, gave some consideration to it. His 
own conclusion is — in 1738 ! — that demonology 
cannot be dispensed with for the explanation of the 
oracles. He gives his grounds for this in a very 
sensible criticism of van Dale's priestly fraud 
theory, the absurdity of which he exposes with 
sound arguments. 

Banier is the last author to whom I can point for 


the demon-theory apphed as an explanation of a 
phenomenon in ancient religion ; I have not found 
it in any other my thologist of the eighteenth century, 
and even in Banier, with the exception of this single 
point, everything is explained quite naturally ac- 
cording to the best Euhemeristic models. But in 
the positive understanding of the nature of ancient 
paganism no very considerable advance had 
actually been made withal. A characteristic ex- 
ample of this is the treatment of ancient religion 
by such an eminent intellect as Giambattista Vico. 
In his Scienza Niiova, which appeared in 1725, as 
the foundation of his exposition of the religion of 
antiquity he gives a characterisation of the mode of 
thought of primitive mankind, which is so pertinent 
and psychologically so correct that it anticipates the 
results of more than a hundred years of research. 
Of any supernatural explanation no trace is found 
in him, though otherwise he speaks as a good Cath- 
olic. But when he proceeds to explain the nature of 
the ancient ideas of the gods in detail, all that it 
comes to is a series of allegories, among which the 
politico-social play a main part. Vico sees the 
earliest history of mankind in the light of the 
traditions about Rome ; the Graeco-Roman gods, 
then, and the myths about them, become to him 
largely an expression of struggles betwen the 
" patricians and plebeians " of remote antiquity. 

Most of the mythology of the eighteenth century 
is like this. The Euhemeristic school gradually 
gave up the hypothesis of the Jewish religion as the 
origin of paganism ; Banier, the chief representative 
of the school, still argues at length against Hebraism. 


In its place, Phoenicians, Ass5n:ians, Persians and, 
above all, Egyptians, are brought into play, or, as 
in the case of the Englishman Bryant, the whole 
of mythology is explained as reminiscences of the 
exploits of an aboriginal race, the Cuthites, which 
never existed. The allegorist school gradually 
rallied round the idea of the cult of the heavenly 
bodies as the origin of the pagan religions ; as late 
as the days of the French Revolution, Dupuis, in a 
voluminous work, tried to trace the whole of ancient 
religion and mythology back to astronomy. On the 
whole the movement diverged more and more from 
Euhemerism towards the conception of Greek reli- 
gion as a kind of cult of nature ; when the sudden 
awakening to a more correct understanding came 
towards the close of the century, Euhemerism was 
evidently already an antiquated view. Thus, since 
the Renaissance, by a slow and very devious process 
of development, a gradual approach had been made 
to a more correct view of the nature of ancient 
religion. After the Devil had more or less taken the 
place of the demons, the rest of demonology, the 
moral allegory, Hebraism and Euhemerism were 
eliminated by successive stages, and nature-sym- 
bolism was reached as the final stage. 

We know now that even this is not the correct 
explanation of the nature and origin of the concep- 
tion of the gods prevailing among the ancients. 
Recent investigations have shown that the Greek 
gods, in spite of their apparent simplicity and clarity, 
are highly complex organisms, the products of a long 
process of development to which the most diverse 
factors have contributed. In order to arrive at this 


result another century of work, with many attempts 
in the wrong direction, has been required. The idea 
that the Greek gods were nature-gods really domi- 
nated research through almost the whole of the 
nineteenth century. If it has now been dethroned 
or reduced to the measure of truth it contains — for 
undoubtedly a natural object enters as a component 
into the essence of some Greek deities — this is in the 
first place due to the intensive study of the reUgions 
of primitive peoples, living or obsolete ; and the 
results of this study were only applied to Greek 
religion during the last decade of the century. 
But the starting-point of modern history of religion 
lies much farther back : its beginnings date from 
the great revival of historical research which was 
inaugurated by Rousseau and continued by Herder. 
Henceforward the unhistorical methods of the age 
of enlightenment were abolished, and attention 
directed in real earnest towards the earlier stages 
of human civilisation. 

This, however, carries us a step beyond the 
point of time at which this sketch should, strictly 
speaking, stop. For by the beginning of the 
eighteenth century — but not before — the negative 
fact which is all important in this connexion had 
won recognition : namely, that there existed no 
supernatural beings latent behind the Greek ideas 
of their gods, and corresponding at any rate in some 
degree to them ; but that these ideas must be 
regarded and explained as entirely inventions of the 
human imagination. 


AT the very beginning of this inquiry it was 
emphasised that its theme would in the 
main be the rehgious views of the upper 
class, and within this sphere again especially the 
views of those circles which were in close touch with 
philosophy. The reason for this is of course in the 
first place that only in such circles can we expect 
to find expressed a point of view approaching to 
positive atheism. But we may assuredly go further 
than this. We shall hardly be too bold in asserting 
that the free-thinking of philosophically educated 
men in reality had very slight influence on the great 
mass of the population. Philosophy did not pene- 
trate so far, and whatever degree of perception we 
estimate the masses to have had of the fact that the 
upper layer of society regarded the popular faith 
with critical eyes — and in the long run it could not 
be concealed — we cannot fail to recognise that 
religious development among the ancients did not 
tend towards atheism. Important changes took 
place in ancient religion during the Hellenistic Age 
and the time of the Roman Empire, but their causes 
were of a social and national kind, and, if we confine 
ourselves to paganism, they only led to certain 
gods going out of fashion and others coming in. 

The utmost we can assert is that a certain weakening 



of the religious life may have been widely prevalent 
during the time of transition between the two ages — 
the transition falls at somewhat different dates in 
the eastern and western part of the Empire — but 
that weakening was soon overcome. , ' 

Now the peculiar result of this investigation of 
the state of religion among the upper classes seems 
to me to be this : the curve of intensity of religious 
feeling which conjecture leads us to draw through 
the spiritual life of the ancients as a whole, that 
same curve, but more distinct and sharply accen- 
tuated, is found again in the relations of the upper 
classes to the popular faith. Towards the close of 
the fifth century it looks as if the cultured classes 
that formed the centre of Greek intellectual life were 
outgrowing the ancient religion. The reaction 
which set in with Socrates and Plato certainly 
checked this movement, but it did not stop it. 
Cynics, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans and 
Sceptics, in spite of their widely differing points of 
view, were all entirely unable to share the religious 
ideas of their countrymen in the form in which they 
were cast in the national religion. However many 
allowances they made, their attitude towards the 
popular faith was critical, and on important points 
they denied it. It is against the background thus 
resulting from ancient philosophy's treatment of 
ancient religion that we must view such phenomena 
as Polybius, Cicero, and Pliny the Elder, if we wish 
to understand their full significance. 

On the other hand, it is certain that this was not 
the view that conquered in the end among the 
educated classes in antiquity. The lower we come 


down in the Empire the more evident does the posi- 
tive relation of the upper class to the gods of the 
popular faith become. Some few examples have 
already been mentioned in the preceding pages. In 
philosophy the whole movement finds its typical 
expression in demonology, which during the later 
Empire reigned undisputed in the one or two schools 
that still retained any vitality. It is significant 
that its source was the earlier Platonism, with its 
very conservative attitude towards popular belief, 
and that it was taken over by the later Stoic school, 
which inaugurated the general religious reaction 
in philosophy. And it is no less significant that 
demonology was swallowed whole by the mono- 
theistic religion which superseded ancient paganism, 
and for more than a thousand years was the recog- 
nised explanation of the nature thereof. 

In accordance with the line of development here 
sketched, the inquiry has of necessity been focused 
on two main points : Sophistic and the Hellenistic 
Age. Now it is of peculiar interest to note what small 
traces of pure atheism can after all be found here, 
in spite of all criticism of the popular faith. We 
have surmised its presence among a few prominent 
personalities in fifth - century Athens ; we have 
found evidence of its extension in the same place 
in the period immediately following ; and in the 
time of transition between the fourth and third 
centuries we have thought it likely that it existed 
among a very few philosophers, of whom none are in 
the first rank. Everywhere else we find adjustments, 
in part very serious and real concessions, to popular 
belief. Not to mention the attitude towards wor- 


ship, which was only hostile in one sect of slight 
importance : the assumption of the divinity of 
the heavenly bodies which was common to the 
Academics, Peripatetics, and Stoics is really in 
principle an acknowledgement of the popular faith, 
whose conception of the gods was actually borrowed 
and applied, not to some philosophical abstraction, 
but to individual and concrete natural objects. 
The anthropomorphic gods of the Epicureans point 
in the same direction. In spite of their profound 
difference from the beings that were worshipped and 
believed in by the ordinary Greek, they are in 
complete harmony with the opinion on which all 
potytheism is based : that there are individual 
beings of a higher order than man. And though 
the Stoics in theory confined their acknowledgment 
of this doctrine to the heavenly bodies, in practice — 
even if we disregard demonology — they consistently 
brought it to bear upon the anthropomorphic gods, 
in direct continuation of the Socratic reaction against 
the atheistic tendencies of Sophistic. 

If now we ask ourselves what may be the cause 
of this peculiar dualism in the relationship of 
ancient thought to religion, though admitting the 
highly complex nature of the problem, we can 
scarcely avoid recognising a certain principle. 
Ancient thought outgrew the ancient popular faith ; 
that is beyond doubt. Hence its critical attitude. 
But it never outgrew that supernaturalist view 
which was the foundation of the popular faith. 
Hence its concessions to the popular faith, even 
when it was most critical, and its final surrender 
thereunto. And that it never outgrew the founda- 


tion of the popular faith is connected with its whole 
conception of nature and especially with its con- 
ception of the universe. We cannot indeed deny 
that the ancients had a certain feeling that nature 
was regulated by laws, but they only made imperfect 
attempts at a mechanical theory of nature in which 
this regulation of the world by law was carried 
through in principle, and with one brilliant exception 
they adhered implicitly to the geocentric concep- 
tion of the universe. We may, I think, venture to 
assert with good reason that on such assumptions 
the philosophers of antiquity could not advance 
further than they did. In other words, on the given 
hypotheses the supernaturalist view was the correct 
one, the one that was most probable, and therefore 
that on which people finally agreed. A few chosen 
spirits may at any time by intuition, without any 
strictly scientific foundation, emancipate them- 
selves entirely from religious errors ; this also hap- 
pened among the ancients, and on the first occasion 
was not unconnected with an enormous advance in 
the conception of nature. But it is certain that the 
views of an entire age are always decisively con- 
ditioned by its knowledge and interpretation of the 
universe surrounding it, and cannot in principle be 
emancipated therefrom. 

Seen from this point of view, our brief sketch of 
the attitude of posterity towards the religion of the 
pagan world will also not be without interest. If, 
after isolated advances during the mighty awaken- 
ing of the Renaissance, it is not until the transition 
from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century that 
we find the modern atheistic conception of the 


nature of the gods of the ancients estabUshed in 
principle and consistently applied, we can scarcely 
avoid connecting this fact with the advance of 
natural science in the seventeenth century, and not 
least with the victory of the heliocentric system. 
After the close of antiquity the pagan gods had re- 
ceded to a distance, practically speaking, because 
they were not worshipped any more. No one 
troubled himself about them. But in theory one 
had got no further, i.e. no advance had been made 
on the ancients, and no advance could be made 
as long as supernaturalism was adhered to in 
connexion with the ancient view of the universe. 
Through monotheism the notions of the divinity 
of the sun, moon and planets had certainly been got 
rid of, but not so the notion of the world — i.e. the 
globe enclosed within the firmament — as filled with 
personal beings of a higher order than man ; and 
even the duty of turning the spheres to which the 
heavenly bodies were believed to be fastened was — 
quite consistently — assigned to some of these beings. 
As long as such notions were in operation, not only 
were there no grounds for denying the reality of the 
pagan gods, but there was every reason to assume it. 
So far we may rightly say that it was Copernicus, 
Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Kepler and Newton that 
did away with the traditional conception of ancient 

Natural science, however, furnishes only the 
negative result that the gods of polytheism are not 
what they are said to be : real beings of a higher 
order than man. To reveal what they are, other 
knowledge is required. This was not attained until 


long after the revival of natural science in the six- 
teenth and seventeenth centuries. The vacillation 
in the eighteenth century between various theories 
of the explanation of the nature of ancient polytheism 
— theories which were all false, though not equally 
false — is in this respect significant enough ; likewise 
the gradual progress which characterises research 
in the nineteenth century, and which may be indi- 
cated by such names as Heyne, Buttmann, K. O. 
Miiller, Lobeck, Mannhardt, Rohde, and Usener, 
to mention only some of the most important and 
omitting those still alive. Viewed in this light 
the development sketched here within a narrowly 
restricted field is typical of the course of European 
intellectual history from antiquity down to our day. 


Of Atheism in Antiquity as defined here no treatment is known 
to me ; but there exist an older and a newer book that deal with 
the question within a wider compass. The first of these is Krische, 
Die theologischen Lehren der griechischen Denker (Gottingen, 1840); 
it is chiefly concerned with the philosophical conceptions of deity, 
but it touches also on the relations of philosophers to popular 
religion. The second is Decharme, La critique des traditions 
religieuses chez les Grecs (Paris, 1904) ; it is not fertile in new points 
of view, but it has suggested several details which I might else 
have overlooked. Such books as Caird, The Evolution of Theology 
in the Greek Philosophers (Glasgow, 1904), or Moon, Religious 
Thought of the Greeks (Cambridge, Mass., 1919), barely touch on 
the relation to popular belief ; of Louis, Les doctrines religieuses 
des philosophes grecs, I have not been able to make use. I regret 
that Poul Helms, The Conception of God in Greek Philosophy 
(Danish, in Studier for Sprog- og Oldtidsforskning, No. 115), was not 
published until my essay was already in the press. General works 
on Atheism are indicated in Aveling's article, "Atheism," in the 
Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. ii., but none of them seem to be found 
at Copenhagen. In the Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, ii., 
there is a detailed article on Atheism in its relation to different 
religions ; the section treating of Antiquity is written by Pearson, 
but is meagre. Works like Zeller, Philosophic der Griechen, and 
Gomperz, Griechische Denker, contain accounts of the attitude of 
philosophers (Gomperz also includes others) towards popular 
belief ; of these books I have of course made use throughout, but 
they are not referred to in the following notes except on special 
occasion. Scattered remarks and small monographs on details 
are naturally to be found in plenty. Where I have met with 
such and found something useful in them, or where I express 
dissent from them, I have noticed it ; but I have not aimed at 
exhausting the literature on my subject. On the other hand I 
have tried to make myself completely acquainted with the first- 
hand material, wherever it gave a direct support for assuming ' 
Atheism, and to take my own view of it. In many cases, however, 
the argumentation has had to be indirect : it has been necessary 
to draw inferences from what an author does not sav in a certain 
connexion when he might be expected to say it, or what he gener- 
ally and throughout avoids mentioning, or from his general 
manner and peculiarities in his way of speaking of the gods. In 
such cases I have often had to be content with my previous know- 
ledge and my general impression of the facts ; but then I have 

154 NOTES 

as a rule made use of the important modern literature on the 
subject. In working out the sketch of the ideas after the end of 
Antiquity, I have been almost without any guidance in modern 
literature. I have accordingly had to try, on the basis of a super- 
ficial acquaintance with some of the chief types, to form for myself, 
as best I might, some idea of the course of the evolution ; but I 
have not been able to go systematically through the immense 
material, however fruitful such a research appeared to be. In 
the meantime, between the publication of my Danish essay and 
this translation, there has appeared a work by Mr. Gruppe, 
Geschichte der klassischen Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte (Leip- 
zig, 1 921). My task in writing my last chapters would have been 
much easier if I could have made use of Mr. Gruppe's learned 
and comprehensive treatment of the subject ; but it would not 
have been superfluous, for Mr. Gruppe deals principally with the 
history of classical mythology, not with the history of the beUef 
in the gods of antiquity. So I have ventured to let my sketch 
stand as it is, only reducing some of the notes (which I had on pur- 
pose made rather full, to aid others who might pursue the s.bject) 
by referring to Mr. Gruppe instead of to the sources themselves. 

For kindly helping me to find my bearings in out-of-the-way 
parts of my subject, I am indebted to my colleagues F. Buhl, I. L. 
Heiberg, I. C. Jacobsen and Kr. Nyrop, as well as to Prof. Martin 
P. Nilsson in Lund. 

P. I. Definition of Atheism : see the article in the Catholic 
Encycl. vol. ii. 

P. 5. Atheism : see Murray, New Engl. Diet., under Atheism 
and -ism. The word seems to have come up in the Renaissance. 

P. 6. Criminal Law at Athens : see Lipsius, Das attische Recht 
und Rechtsverfahren, i. p. 358. — The definition in Aristotle, de virt. 
et vit. 7, p. 12510, has, I think, no legal foundation. 

P. 9. On the legal foundation for the trials of Christians, see 
Mommsen, Der Religions/revel nach romischem Recht (Ges. Schr. 
iii. p. 389). — Mommsen goes too far, I think, in supposing a legal 
foundation for the trials of Christians ; above all, I do not beUeve 
that the defection from the Roman religion was ever considered 
as maiestas in the technical sense of the word, the more so as it is 
certain that, after the earliest period, no difference was made in 
the treatment of citizens and aUens. 

P. 13. Lists of atheists : Cicero, de nat. deor. i. 1,2 (comp. 
1.23,26). Sext. Emp. hypotyjj^. 2 1^ ; adv. math. g. ^o. Aehan, 
v.h. 2. 31 ; de nat. ^'^^f' i'^ — Tj^p predicate atheos is once appUed 
to ^^'^''"•■nr"'^"'^ b^^"^-^""'^''^^''^" ai/thor (Irenaeus : see Diels, Vorsokr. 
46, A 1 1 3 ; compare also Marcellinus, vit. Thuc. (see below, note 
on p. 29). Of such isolated cases I have taken no account. 

P. 16. On the dualism in the Greek conception of the nature of 
gods see Nagelsbach, Horn. Theol. p. 11. — Pindar : 01. i. 28, 9. 35 ; 
Pyth. 3. 27. 

P. 17. Xenophanes : Einhorn, Zeit- und Streitfragen der 
modemen Xenophanesforschtmg (Arch. f. Gesch. d. Philos. xxxi.). 

P. 18. Xenophanes's age: Diels, Vorsokr. 11, B 8. — His 
criticism of Homer and Hesiod : ibid. 11, 12. — Titans and Giants : 

NOTES 155 

ibid. I. 22. — Criticism of Anthropomorphism : ibid. 14-16. — 
Divination : Cic. de div. i. 3, 5. 

P. 19. On Xenophanes's conception of God, comp. Vorsokr. 
II, B 23-26; on the identification of God with the universe: 
Vorsokr. 11, A 30, 31, 33-36. — Cicero : de div. i. 3, 5. 

P. 21. For Xenophanes's theology, comp. Freudenthal, Arch. 
f. Gesch. d. Philos. i. p. 322, and Zeller's criticism, ibid. p. 524. 
Agreeing with Freudenthal : Decharme, p. 46 ; Campbell, Religion 
in Greek Literature, p. 293. 

P. 21. Parmenides does not even appear to have designated 
his " Being " as God (Zeller, i. p. 563). 

P. 23. In the eighteenth century people discussed diffusely 
the question whether Thales was an atheist (of course in the 
sense in which the word was taken at that time) ; comp. Tenne- 
mann, Gesch. d. Philos. i. pp. 62 and 422. Tennemann remarks 
quite truly that the question is put wrongly. 

P. 24. Thales : Diels, Vorsokr. i, A 22-23. — Attitude of 
Democritus towards popular belief : Vorsokr. 55, A 74-79 ; comp. 
1 16, 1 17 ; B 166, and also B 30. Diels, Ueber den Ddmonenglauben 
des D. {Arch. f. Gesch. d. Philos. 1894, p. 154). 

P. 25. Trial of Anaxagoras : Vorsokr. 46, A i, 17, 18, 19. 
P. 26. Ram's head : Vorsokr. 46, A 16. 

P. 27. Geffcken (in Hermes, 42, p. 127) has tried to make out 
something about a criticism of popular belief by Anaxagoras 
from some passages in Aristophanes {Nub. 398) and Lucian (Tim. 
10, etc.), but I do not think he has succeeded. — Pericles a free- 
thinker : Plut. Pericl. 6 and 38 ; comp. Decharme, p. 160. — 
Personality of Anaxagoras : Vorsokr. 46, A 30 (Aristotle, End. 
Ethics, A 4, p. 121 56, 6). 

P. 28. Herodotus : 8, 77. — Sophocles : Oed. rex. 498, 863. — 
Diopeithes : Plut. Pericl. 32 (Vorsokr. 46, A 17). — Thucydides : 
Classen in the preface to his 3rd ed., p. Ivii. 

P. 29. Thucydides, a disciple of Anaxagoras : Marcellinus, 
vit. Thuc. 22. — Generally Thucydides is thought to have been more 
conservative in his religious opinions than I consider probable ; 
see Classen, loc. cit. ; Decharme, p. 83 ; Gertz in his preface to the 
Danish translation of Thucydides, p. xxvii. — Hippo : Vorsokr. 26, 
A 4, 6, 8, 9 ; B 2, 3. 

P. 30. Aristotle : Vorsokr. 26, A 7. — Diogenes an atheist: 
Aelian, v.h. 2, 31. — The air his god : Vorsokr. 51, A 8 (he thought 
that Homer identified Zeus with the air, and approved of this as 
ov fivåiKug, aAA' d'A-/)éu: ilpnuivoy) ; B 5, 7, 8. — Allusions to his doctrines 
by Aristophanes : Nub. 225, 828 {Vorsokr. 51, C i, 2). 

P. 31. A chief representative of the naively critical view of 
natural phenomena is for us Herodotus. The locus classiciis is 
vii. 129 ; comp. Gomperz, Griech, Denker, i. p. 208 ; Heiberg, 
Festskrift til Ussing (Copenhagen, 1900), p. 91 ; Decharme, p. 69. — 
Principal passages about Diagoras : Sext. Emp. adv. math. 9, 53 ; 
Suidas, art. Diagoras II.) ; schol. Aristoph. Nub. 830 (the legend); 
Suidas, art. Diagoras I.); Aristoph. Av. 1071 with schol.; schol. 
Aristoph. Ran. 320 ; [Lysias] vi. 17 ; Diod. xiii. 16 (the decree) ; 
Philodem. de piet. p. 89 Gomp. (comments of Aristoxenus) ; 

156 NOTES 

Aelian, v.h. ii. 22 (legislation at Mantinea). — Wilamowitz {Textgesch. 
d. Lyy. p. 80) has tried to save the tradition by supposing that 
the acme of Diagoras has been put too early. Comp. also his 
remarks, Griech. Verskunst. p. 426, where he has taken up the 
question again with reference to my treatment of it. As he has 
now conceded the possibility of referring the legislation to the 
earlier date, the difference between us is really very slight, and it 
is of course possible, perhaps even probable, that the acme of the 
poet has been antedated. — Aristoph. Av. 107 1 : "On this very 
day it is made public, that if one of you kills Diagoras from Melos, 
he shall have a talent, and if one kills one of the dead tyrants, he 
shall have a talent." The parallel between the two decrees, of 
which the latter is of course an invention of Aristophanes, would 
be without point if the decree against Diagoras was not as futile 
as the decree against the tyrants (i.e. the sons of Peisistratus, who 
had been dead some three-quarters of a century), that is. if it did 
not come many years too late. — Wilamowitz {Griech. Verskunst, 
loc. cit.) takes the sense to be : " You will not get hold of Diagoras 
any more than you did of the tyrants." But this, besides being 
somewhat pointless, does not agree so well as my explanation 
with the introductory words : "On this very da3^" On the other 
hand, I never meant to imply that Diagoras was dead in 415, 
but only that his offence was an old one — just as that of Protagoras 
probably was (see p. 39). 

P. 39. Trial of Protagoras : Vorsokr. 74, A 1-4, 23 ; the 
passage referring to the gods : ibid. B 4. — Plato : Theaet. p. 162^^ 
(Vorsokr. 74, A 23). 

P. 41. Distinction between belief and knowledge by Prota- 
goras : Gomperz, Griech. Denker, i. p. 359. 

P. 42. Prodicus : Vorsokr. yj, B 5. Comp. Norvin, Allegorien i 
den græske Philosophi {Edda, 1Q19), p. 82. I cannot, however, 
quite adopt Norvin's view of the theory of Protagoras. 

P. 44. Critias : Vorsokr. 81, B 25. — W. Nestle, Jahrbb. f. 
Philol. xi. (1903), pp. 81 and 178, gives an exhaustive treatment of 
the subject, but I cannot share his view of it. 

P. 46. Euripides : Suppl. 201. — Aloschion : Trag. Fragm. ed. 
Nauck (2nd ed.), p. 813. — ^Plato : Rep. ii. 3696. 

P. 47. Democritus : Reinhardt in Hermes, xlvii (1912), p. 503 
In spite of Wilamowitz's objections (in his Platon, ii. p. 214), I still 
consider it probable that Plato alludes to a philosophical theory. — 
Protagoras on the original state : Vorsokr. 74, B 86. 

P. 48. Euripides : Electra, y^y (Euripides does not believe in 
the tale that the sun reversed its course on account of Thyestes's 
■fraud against Atreus, and then adds : " Fables that terrify men 
are a profit to the worship of the gods "). — Aristotle : Metaph. A 8, 
10746 ; see text, p. 85. — Polybius : vi. 56 ; see text pp. 90 and 
114. — Plato's Gorgias, p. 482 and foil. 

P. 49. — Callicles : see e.g. Wilamowitz, Platon, i. p. 208. 

P. 50. — Thrasymachus : Plato, Rep. i. pp. 338c, 343« ; comp. 
also ii. p. 3586. His remark on Providence (Vorsokr. 78, B 8) runs 
thus : " The gods do not see the things that are done among men ; 
if they did, they would not overlook the greatest human good. 

NOTES 157 

justice. For we find that men do not follow it." Comp. text, 
p. 6i. — Diagoras as Critias's source : Nestle, Jahrbb., 1903, p. loi. 

P. 51, Euripides : see W. Nestle, Euripides (Stuttgart, 1901) 
pp. 51-152. Here, too, the material is set forth exhaustively ; the 
results seem to me inadmissible. Browning's theory (The Ring 
and the Book, x. 1661 foil.) that Euripides did believe in the exist- 
ence of the gods, but did not believe them to be perfect, is a possible, 
perhaps even a probable, explanation of many of his utterances ; 
but it will hardly fit all of them. I have examined the question 
in an essay, "Browning om Euripides " in my Udvalgte Afhand- 
linger, p. 55. 

P. 52. Gods identified with the Elements : Bacch. 274; fragm. 
839' ^77, 941 (Nestle, p. 153). 

P. 53. Polemic against sophists : Nestle, p. 206. — B eller ophon : 
fragm. 286. 

P. 54. " If the gods " : fragm. 292, 7. 

P. 55. Melanippe : fragm. 480. The words are said to have 
given offence at the rehearsal, so that Euripides altered them at 
the production of the play (Plut. Amat. ch. 13). — Aeschylus : 
Agam. 160. — Aristophanes: Thesmoph. 450. — In the Frogs, 892, 
Euripides prays to the Ether and other abstractions, not to the 
gods. — Clouds : 1371. 

P. 56. Plato : Repuhl. viii. p. 568«. — Quotation from Mela- 
nippe : Plut. Amat. 13. 

P. 57. Aristophanes and Naturalism : see note to p. 30. 

P. 58. Denial of the gods in the Clouds, 247, 367, 380, 423, 627, 
817,825, 1232. — Moral of thepiece: 1452-1510. — In Aristophanes's 
own travesties of the gods, scholars have found evidence for a 
weakening of popular belief, but this is certainly wrong ; comp. 
Decharme, p. 109. — Words like " believe " and " belief " do not 
cover the Greek word uoyJ^nv, which signifies at once "believe " 
and " be in the habit," " use habitually," so that it covers both 
belief and worship — an ambiguity that is characteristic of Greek 
religion. — Xenophon : Memorab. i. i ; Apol. Socr. 10 and foil. 

P. 59. Plato : Apol. p. 24b (the indictment) ; 266 (the re- 

P. 60. Aristodemus : Xenoph. Memor. i. 4. — Cinesias : De- 
charme, p. 135. — The Hermocopidae : Decharme, p. 152. Beloch, 
Hist, of Greece, ii. i, p. 360, has another explanation. To my argu- 
ment it is of no consequence what special motive is assigned for 
the crime, as long as it is a political one. 

P. 61. Plato on impiety : Laws, x. p. 8866 ; comp. xii. p. 967a. 
Curiously enough, the same tripartition of the wrong attitude 
towards the gods occurs already in the Republic, ii. p. 365^, 
where it is introduced incidentally as well known and a matter 
of course. 

P. 62. Euripides : e.g. Hecuba, 488 ; Suppl. 608. — Reference 
to Anaxagoras : Laws, x. p. 886d ; to Sophistic, 8896. 

P. 65. Plato in the Apology : p. 19c. — Socrates 's daimonion 
a proof of asebeia : Xenoph. Memorab. i. i, 2 ; Apol. Socr. 12 ; 
Plato, Apol. p. 3irf. 

P. 66. Accusation of teaching the doctrine of Anaxagoras : 

158 NOTES 

Plato, Apol. p. 26d ; comp. Xenoph. Memor. i. i, lo. — Plato's 
defence of Socrates : Apol. p. 27a. 

P. 67. Xenophon's defence of Socrates : Memor. i. i, 2 ; 6 foil., 
10 foil. — Teleological view of nature : Xenoph. Memor. i. 4 ; iv. 3. — 
On the religious standpoint of Socrates, comp. my Udvalgte Afhand- 
linger, p. 38. 

P. 68. Plato's Apology, p. 2id, 23a and /, etc. — The gods all- 
knowing : Odyss. iv. 379 and 468 ; comp. Nagelsbach, Hom. Theol. 
p. 18 ; Nachhom. Theol. p. 23. 

P. 69. The gods just : Nagelsbach, Hom. Theol. p. 297 ; Nach- 
hom. Theol. p. 27. 

P. 71. The relation between early religious thought and Delphi 
has been explained correctly by Sam Wide, Einleit. in die Alier- 
tumswissensch., ii. p. 221 ; comp. also I. L. Heiberg in Tilskueren, 
19 1 9, ii. p. 44. — Honours shown to Pindar at Delphi : schol. Pind. 
ed. Drachm, i. p. 2, 14 ; 5, 6. Pausan, x. 24. 5. 

P. 72. Plato on the Delphic Oracle : Apol. p. 2oe. On the 
following comp. I. L. Heiberg, loc. cit. p. 45. — Socrates on his 
daimonion : Plato, Apol. p. 31c. 

P. 74. Antisthenes : Ritter, Hist, philos. Gr.^ 285. — On the 
later Cynics, especially Diogenes, see Diog. Laert. vi. 105 (the gods 
are in need of nothing) ; Julian, Or. vi. p. 199& (Diogenes did not 
worship the gods). 

P. 75. Cyrenaics : Diog. Laert. ii. 91. — Date of Theodorus : 
Diog. Laert. ii. loi, 103 ; his book on the gods : Diog. Laert. ii. 97, 
Sext. Emp. adv. math. ix. 55 ; his trial : Diog. Laert. ii. loi. 

P. 76. Theodorus's book used by Epicurus : Diog. Laert. ii. 97. 
— Zeller : Philos. d. Griechen, ii. i, p. 925. — Euthyphron : see 
especially p. 146 foil. 

P. yy. Criticism of Mythology in the Republic : ii. p. ;}yyb foil. ; 
worship presupposed : e.g. iii. p. 41 5^ ; v. p. 4595, 461a, 468^, 469a, 
470fl ; vii. p. 5406 ; reference to the Oracle : iv. p. 4276. — Timaeus : 
p. 4.od foil. — Laws, rules of worship : vi. p. 759a, vii. p. 967a and 
elsewhere, x. p. 909^ ; capital punishment for atheists : x. p. 909a. 
Comp. above, on p. 61. 

P. 78. Atheism a sin of youth : Laws, x. p. 888a. — Goodness 
and truth of the gods : Republ. ii. p. 379a, 380^, 382a. — Belief in 
Providence: Laws, x. p. 885c, etc.; Republ. x. p. 612«; Apol. 
p. 4id. 

P. 79. Laws, X. p. 888(^, 8936 foil., especially 899c-^ ; comp. 
also xii. p. gGya-c. — Timaeus : p. 40d-f. Comp. Laws, xii. p. 9486. 

P. 80. The gods in the Republic, ii. p. 380c?. This passage, 
taken together with Plato's general treatment of popular belief, 
might lead to the hypothesis that it was Plato's doctrine of ideas 
rather than the rationalism of his youth that brought about strained 
relations between his thought and popular belief. I incline to 
think that such is the case ; but there is a long step even from such 
a state of things to downright atheism, and the stress Plato always 
laid on the belief in Providence is a strong argument in favour of 
his belief in the gods, for he could never make his ideas act in the 
capacity of Providence. — The gods as creators of mankind : Timaeus, 
p. 41a foil. 

NOTES 159 

P. 8i. Xenocrates : the exposition of his doctrine given in the 
text is based upon Heinze's Xenokrates (Leipzig, 1892). 

P. 83. Trial of Aristotle : Diog. Laert. v. 5 ; Athen. xv. p. 696. — 
The writings of Aristotle that have come down to us are almost 
all of them compositions for the use of his disciples, and were not 
accessible to the general public during his lifetime. 

P. 84. On the religious views of Aristotle see in general Zeller, 
ii. 2, p. 787 (Engl, transl. ii. p. 325) ; where the references to his 
writings are given in full. In the following I indicate only a few 
passages of special interest. — Discussion of worship precluded : 
Top. A, xi. p. 105a, 5. — Aristotle's Will : Diog. Laert. v. 15. — The 
gods as determining the limits of the human : e.g. Nic. Eth. K, 
\\\\. p. 1 1786, T,;^ : "(the wise) will also be in need of outward 
prosperity, as he is (only) a man." — Reservations in speaking of 
the gods, e.g. Nic. Eth. K, ix. p. 1179«, 13 : "he who is active in 
accordance with reason . . . must also be supposed to be the most 
beloved of the gods ; for if the gods trouble themselves about 
human affairs — and that they do so is generally taken for granted — it 
must be probable that they take pleasure in what is best and most 
nearly related to themselves {and that must be the reason), and 
that they reward those who love and honour this most highly," 
etc. The passage is typical both of the hypothetical way of speak- 
ing, and of the tmst in the direction of Aristotle's own conception 
of the deity (whose essence is reason) ; also of the Socratic manner 
of dealing with the gods. 

P. 85. The passage quoted is from the Metaphysics, A viii. 
p. 1074a, 38. Comp. Metaph. B, ii. p. 9976, 8 ; iv. p. loooa, 9. 

P. S,6. Theophrastus : Diog. Laert. v. ^7. 

P. 87. Strato : Diels, Ueber das physikal. System des S., 
Sitzungsber. d. Berl. Akad., 1893, P- ^oi. — His god the same as 
nature : Cic. de nat. deor. i. 35. 

P. 89. On the history of Hellenistic religion, see Wendland, 
Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur in ihren Beziehungen z. Judentum 
u. Christentum (Tiibingen, 1907). 

P. 90. The passage quoted is Polyb. vi. 56, 6. 

P. 92. On the Tyche-Religion, see Nagelsbach, Nachhom. 
Theologie, p. 153 ; Lehrs, Populate Aufsdtze, p. 153 ; Rohde, Griech. 
Roman, p. 267 (ist ed.) ; Wendland, p. 59. — Thucydides : see 
Classen in the introduction to his (3rd) edition, pp. Ivii-lix, where 
all the material is collected. A conclusive passage is vii. 36, 6, 
where Thuc. makes the bigoted Nicias before a decisive battle 
express the hope that " Fortune " will favour the Athenians. — 
Demosthenes's dream : Aeschin. iii. jj. — Demosthenes on Tyche : 
Olynth. ii. 22 ; de cor. 252. 

P. 93. Demosthenes and the Pythia : Aesch. iii. 130. Comp. 
ibid. 68, 131, 152 ; Plutarch, Dem. 20. — Demetrius of Phalerum : 
Polyb. xxix. 21. — Temples of Tyche : Roscher, Mythol. Lex., art. 

P. 94. Tyche mistress of the gods : Trag. adesp. fragm. 506, 
Nauck ; [Dio Chrys.] Ixiv. p. 331 R. — Polybius : i. i ; iii. 5, 7. — 
The reservations against Tyche as a principle for the explaining of 
historical facts, and the t\visting of the notion in the direction of 

160 NOTES 

Providence found in certain passages in Polybius, do not concern us 
here ; they are probably due to the Stoic influence he underwent 
during his stay at Rome. Comp. below, on p, 114, and see Cuntz, 
Polybios (Leipzig, 1902), p. 43. — Pliny: ii. 22 foil. 

P. 95. Tyche in the novels : Rohde, Griech. Rom. p. 280. 

P. 97. Strabo : xvii. p. 813. — Plutarch : de def. or. 5 and 7. 

P. 98. The Aetolians at Dium : Polyb. iv. 62 ; at Dodona, 
iv. 67 ; Philip at Thermon, v. 9 ; Dicaearchus, xviii. 54. — Decay of 
Roman worship : Wissowa, Religion u. Kultus d. Romer, p. 70 (2nd 
ed.). To this work I must refer for indications of the sources ; but 
the polemic in the text is chiefl}^ directed against "Wissowa. 

P. 99. Ennius : comp. below, p. 112. 

P. 100. Varro : in Augustine, de civ. Dei, vi. 2. 

P. 103. Theology of the Stoics : Zeller, iii. i, p. 309-45. 

P. 104. Demonology of the Stoics : Heinze, Xenokrates, p. 96. 

P. 105. Epicurus's theology : Zeller, iii. i, pp. 427-38. Comp. 
Schwartz, Charakterkopfe, ii. p. 43. 

P. 106. Epicurus's doctrine of the eternity of the gods criticised : 
Cic. de nat. deor. i. 68 foil. 

P. 107. The Sceptics : Zeller, iii. i, pp. 507 and 521. 

P. 109. Diogenes : see note on p. 74. — Bion : Diog. Laert. iv. 
52 and 54. 

P. 1 10. ]\Ienippos : R. Helm, Lukian w. Menipp (Leipzig and 
Berlin, 1906). 

P. III. Euhemerus : Jacoby in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyclop., 
art. " Euemeros " ; Wendland, Hellenist. Kultur, p. 70. — Euhemerisra 
before Euhemerus : Lobeck, Aglaophamus, p. 9 ; Wendland, 
p. 67. 

P. 112. A Danish scholar. Dr. J. P. Jacobsen (Afhandlinger og 
Artikler, p. 490), seems to think that Euhemerus's theory was in- 
fluenced by the worship of heroes. But there is nothing to show 
that Euhemerus supposed his gods to have continued their exist- 
ence after their death, though this would have been in accordance 
with Greek belief even in the Hellenistic period ; he seems rather 
to have insisted that they were worshipped as gods during their 
lifetime (comp. Jacoby, loc. cit.). 

P. 114. Euhemerism in Polybius : xxxiv. 2 ; comp. x. 10, 11. — 
Relapse into orthodoxy : xxxvii. 9 (the decisive passage) ; xxxix. 
19, 2 (concluding prayer to the gods); xviii. 54, 7-10 ; xxiii. 10, 14 
(the gods punish impiety ; comp. xxxvii. 9, 16). There is a marked 
contrast between such passages and the way Polybius speaks of 
Philip's destruction of the sanctuary at Thermon ; he blames it 
severely, but merely on political, not on religious grounds (v. 9-12). 
Orthodox utterances in the older portions of the work (i. 84, 10 ; 
X. 2, 7) may be due to that accommodation to popular belief which 
Polybius himself acknowledges as justifiable (xvi. 12, 9), but also 
to later revision. — Influence of Stoicism : Hirzel, Untersuchungen 
zu Ciceros philos. Schriften, ii. p. 841. 

P. 115. Cicero's Stoicism in his philosophy of religion : de nat. 
deor. iii. 40, 95. 

P. 116. Sanctuary to TuUia : Cic. ad Att. xii. 18 foil. ; several 
of the letters (23, 25, 35, 36) show that Atticus disapproved of the 

NOTES 161 

idea, and that Cicero himself was conscious that it was unworthy 
of him. 

P. 117. Euhemeristic defence : /»-ag-w. co«so/. 14, 15. — Augustus's 
reorganisation of the cults : Wissowa, Religion ii. Kultus d. Romer, 
p. y-i). Recent scholars, especially when treating of Virgil (Heinze, 
Vergils ep. Technik, 3rd ed. p. 291 ; Norden, Aeneis, vi. 2nd ed. 
pp. 314, 318, 362), speak of the reform of Augustus as if it involved 
a real revulsion of feeling in his contemporaries. This is in my 
opinion a complete misunderstanding of the facts. Virgil's religious 
views : Catal. v., Georgics, ii. 458. 

P. 118. Pliny : hist. nat. ii. 1-27. The passages translated are 
§§ 14 and 27. 

P. 122. Seneca: fragm. 31-39, Haase. — Stoic polemic against 
atheism : Epictetus, diss. ii. 20, 21 ; comp. Marcus Aurelius, vi. 
44. — Later Cynicism : Zeller, iii. i, p. 763. — Oenomaus : only 
preserved in excerpts by Euseb. praep. evang. 5-6 (a separate edition 
is wanted). — His polemic directed against the priests : Euseb. 5, 
p. 213c ; comp. Oenomaus himself, ibid. 6, p. 256^?. 

P. 123. Lucian : see Christ, Gesch. d. gyiech. Litt. ii. 2, p. 550 
(5th ed.), and R. Helm, Lukian u. Menipp (see note to p. 1 10). 

P. 124. Timon : ch. x. 

P. 126. On Lucian's caution in attacking the really popular 
gods, see Wilamowdtz, in Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. 8, p. 248. — The 
Jews atheists : Harnack, Der Vorwurf d. Atheismus in den 3 ersten 
Jahrh. (Texte u. Unters., N.F.. xiii. 4). p. 3. 

P. 127. I have met with no comprehensive treatment of Je\vish 
and Christian polemic against Paganism ; Geffcken, Zwei griech. 
Apologeten (Leipzig, 1907), is chiefly concerned with investigations 
into the sources. I shall therefore indicate the principal passages 
on which my treatment is based. — Polemic against images in the 
Old Testament : Isaiah 44. 10 etc. ; in later literature : Epistle 
of Jeremiah ; Wisdom of Solomon 13 foil. ; Philo, de decal. 65 foil., 
etc. — Euhemerism : Wisdom of Solomon 14.15 ; Epistle of Aristeas, 
135 ; Sibyll. iii. 547, 554, 723. — Elements and celestial bodies : 
Wisdom of Solomon 13 ; Philo, de decal. 52 foil. — The tenacity of 
tradition is apparent from the fact that even Maimonides in his 
treatise of idolatn.^ deals only mth star-worship and image-worship. 
I know the treatise only from the Latin translation by D. Voss 
(in G. I. Voss's Opera, vol. v.). — Demons : Deuteron. 32. 17 ; 
Psalms 106. ^j ; add (according to LXX.) Isaiah 65. 11 ; Psalms 
96. 5. Later writers : Enoch 19. 99,7 ; Baruch 4. 7. Such passages 
as Jub. 22, 17 or Sibyll. prooem. 22 are possibly Euhemeristic. — 
Fallen angels : Enoch, 19. — Philo's demonology : de gig. 6-18, etc. 

P. 128. St. Paul : I Cor. 10. 20 ; comp. 8. 4 and Rom. i. 23. 

P. 129. Image-worship and demon-worship not conciliated : 
e.g. TertuU. Apologet. 10-15 ^"^ 22-23, comp. 27. — Jewish demon- 
ology : Bousset, Religion d. Jiidentums, p. 326 (ist ed.). — Fallen 
angels : e.g. Athenag. 24 foil. ; Augustine, Enchir. 9, 28 foil ; 
de civ. Dei, viii. 22. 

P. 130. Euhemerism in the Apologists : e.g. Augustine, de civ. 
Dei, ii. 10; vi. 7; vii. 18 and 33; viii. 26. — Euhemerism and 
demonology combined: e.g. Augustine, de civ. Dei, ii. 10; vii. 35 ; 

162 NOTES 

comp. vii. 28 fin. — Worship of the heavenly bodies : e.g. Aristid. 
3 foil. ; Augustine, de civ. Dei, vii. 29 foil. 

P. 131. Paganism a delusion caused by demons : Thomas Aq. 
Summa theol. P. ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4 ; comp. below, note on p. 135. 

P. 133. For the following sketch I have found valuable material 
in Gedike's essay, Ueber die mannigfaltigen Hypoihesen z. Erkldrung 
d. Mythologie {Verm. Schriften, Berlin, 1 801, p. 61). 

P. 134. Milton : Paradise Lost, i. 506. The theory that the 
pagan oracles fell mute at the rise of Christianity is also found in 
Milton, Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, st. xviii. foil. 

P. 135. G. I. Voss ; De Theologia Gentili, lib. i. (published, 1642) — 
Voss's view is in the main that idolatry as a whole is the work of the 
Devil. What is worshipped is partly the heavenly bodies, partly 
demons, partly (and principally) dead men ; most of the ancient 
gods are identified with persons from the Old Testament. Demon- 
worship is dealt with in ch. 6 ; it is proved among other things by 
the true predictions of the oracles. Individual Greek deities are 
identified with demons in ch. 7, in a context where oracles are 
dealt with. On older works of the same tendency, see below, 
note on p. 140 ; on Natalis Comes, ibid. A fuller treatment of 
Voss's theories is found in Gruppe's work, § 25. — Thomas Aquinas : 
Summa theol. P. ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4 ; comp. also Q. 122, art. 2. — 
Dante : Sommo Giove for God, Purg. vi. 118; his devils : Charon, 
Inf. iii. 82 (109 expressly designated as " dimonio ") ; Minos, 
Inf. V. 4 ; Geryon, Inf. xviii. (there are more of the same kind). — 
" Dei falsi e bugiardi " : Inf. i. 72. (Plutus, who appears as a 
devil in Inf. vii. was probably taken by Dante for an antique god ; 
but the name may also be a classicising translation of Mammon.) 

P. 136. Mediaeval epic poets : Nyrop, Den oldfranske Helte- 
digtning, p. 255 and 260 ; Dernedde, Ueber die den altfranzos. 
Dichtern bekannten Stoffe aus dem Altertum (Diss. Gotting. 1887). — 
Confusion of ancient and Christian elements : Dernedde, p. 10 ; 
the gods are devils : Dernedde, pp. 85, 88. — Euhemerism : Der- 
nedde, p. 4. — I have tried to get a first-hand impression of the way 
the gods are treated by the old French epic poets, but the material 
is too large, and indexes suited to the purpose are wanting. The 
paganism of the original is taken over naively, e.g., by Veldeke, 
Eneidt, i. 45, 169. — On magic I have consulted Horst's Ddmonomagie 
(Frankf. 181 8) ; and his Zauber-Bibliothek (Mainz, 1821-26) ; 
Schindler, Der Aberglaube des Mittelalters (Breslau, 1858) ; Maury, 
La magie et I'astrologie dans I' antiquité et au moyen åge (Paris, i860). 
These authors all agree that mediaeval magic is dependent on 
antiquity, but that the pagan gods are superseded by devils (or the 
Devil). The connexion in substance with antiquity, on which 
Maury specially insists, is certain enough, but does not concern us 
here, where the question is about the theory. In the Zauber-Bibl. 
i. p. 137 (in the treatise Pneumatologia vera et occulta), the snake 
Python is put down among the demons, with the remark that 
Apollo was called after it. — Magic formulae with antique gods : 
Heim, Incantamenta magica (in the Neue Jahrbb. f. Philologie, 
Suppl. xix. 1893, p. 557 ; I owe this reference to the kindness of 
my colleague. Prof. Groenbeck). Pradel, Religionsgesch. Vers. u. 

NOTES 168 

Vorarb. iii., has collected prayers and magic formulae from Italy 
and Greece ; the}' do not contain names of antique gods. 

P. 137. Acosta : Joseph de Acosta, Historia naturale e morale 
delle Indie, Venice, 1596. I have used this Italian translation; 
the original work appeared in 1590. — Demons at work in oracles ■ 
bk. V. ch. 9 ; in magic : ch. 25. 

P. 138. Demon in Brazil : Voss, Theol. Gent. i. ch. 8. — Pagan 
worship in the Florentine and Roman Academies : Voigt, Wieder- 
belebung d. klass. Altertums, ii. p. 239 (2nd ed.) ; Hettner, Ital. 
Studien, p. 174. — On the conception of the antique gods in the 
earlier Middle Ages, see Gruppe, § 4. — Thomas Aquinas : Summa 
theol. P. ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4. — Curious and typical of the mediaeval 
way of reasoning is the idea of seeking prototypes of the Christian 
history of salvation in pagan mythology. See v. Eicken, Gesch. u. 
System d. mittelalt. Weltanschauung (Stuttg. 1887), p. 648, and (with 
more detail) F. Piper, Mythologie u. Symbolik d. christl. Kunst (Wei 
mar, 1847-5 i), i- P- M3 ; comp. also Gruppe, § 8 foil. Good instances 
are the myths in the Speculum humanae salvationis, chs. 3 and 24. — 

P. 139. On Hebraism in general, see Gruppe, § 19 and §24 foil. ; 
on Huet, § 28. Nevertheless, Huet operates with demonology in 
connexion with the oracles (Dem. evang. ii. 9, 34, 4). 

P. 140. On Natalis Comes, see Gruppe, § 19. In bk. i. ch. 7, 
Natalis Comes gives an account of the origin of antiquity's con- 
ceptions of the gods ; it has quite a naturalistic turn. Neverthe- 
less, we find in ch. 16 a remark which shows that he embraced 
demonology in its crudest form ; compare also the theory set forth 
in ch, 10. His interpretations of myths are collected in bk. x. — 
On Bacon, see Gruppe, § 22, Typhoeus-myth : introduct. to De 
sapientia veterum. — Alchemistic interpretations : Gedike, Verm. 
Schriften, p. 78 ; Gruppe, § 30. Of the works quoted by Gedike, I 
have consulted Faber 's Panchymicum (Frankf. 1651) and Toll's 
Fortuita (Amsterd. 1687). Faber has only some remarks on the 
matter in bk. i. ch. 5 ; by Toll the alchemistic interpretation is 
carried through. Gedike quotes, moreover, a work by Suarez de 
Salazar, which must date from the sixteenth century ; according 
to Jocher (iv. 191 3) it only exists in MS., and I do not know where 
Gedike got his reference. — Thomas: Summa, P. ii. 2, Q. 172, arts. 
5 and 6. 

P. 141. Demonology as explanation of the oracles : see van 
Dale, De oraculis, p. 430 (Amsterd. 1700) ; he quotes numerous 
treatises from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I have 
glanced at Moebius, De oraculorum ethnicorum origine, etc. (Leipzig, 
1656). — CaeUus Rhodiginus : Lectionum antiq. (Leyden, 1516), 
lib. ii. cap. 12 ; comp. Gruppe, § 15. — Caelius Calcagninus : 
Oraculorum liber (in his Opera, Basle, 1544, p. 640). The little 
dialogue is not very easy to understand ; it is evidently a satire on 
contemporary credulity ; but that Caelius completely rejected 
divination seems to be assumed also by G. I. Voss, Theol. Gent. 
i. 6. — Machiavelli : Discorsi, i. 56. — Van Dale : De oraculis gentilium 
(ist ed. Amsterd. 1683) ; De idololatria (Amsterd. 1696). DiflS- 
culties with the biblical accounts of demons : De idol., dedication. — 
Fontenelle : Histoire des oracles (Paris, 1687). The little book 

164 NOTES 

has an amusing preface, in which Fontenelle with naive complacency 
(and with a sharp eye for van Dale's deficiencies of style) gives 
an account of his popularisation of the learned work. On Fonte- 
nelle and the answer by the Jesuit, Balthus, see for further details 
Banier, La mythologie et les fables expliqiiées par I'Mstoire (Paris, 
1738), bk. iii. ch. i. Van Dale's book itself had called forth an 
answer by Moebius (included in the edition of 1690 of his work, 
de orac. ethn. orig.). — On the influence exercised by van Dale and 
Fontenelle on the succeeding mythologists, see Gruppe, § 34. — 
Banier : see Gruppe, § 35. 

P. 143. Vico : Scienza nuova (Milan, 1853), P- 168 (bk. ii. in 
the section, Delia metafisica poetica) ; political allegories, e.g. p. 309 
(in the Canone mitologico). Comp. Gruppe, § 44. — Banier : in 
the work indicated above, bk. i. ch. 5. 

P. 144. On the mythological theories of the eighteenth century, 
comp. Gruppe, § 36 foil. ; on Bryant, § 40 ; on Dupuis, § 41. — 
Polemic against Euheraerism from the standpoint of nature- 
symbolism : de la Barre, Mémoires pour servir å I'histoire de la 
religion en Grece, in Mém. de I'Acad. des Inscr. xxiv. (1749; the 
treatise had already been communicated in 1737 and 1738); a 
posthumous continuation in Mém. xxix. (1770) gives an idea of 
de la Barre 's own point of view, which was not a little in advance 
of his time. Comp. Gruppe, § 2i7- 

P. 145. A good survey of modern investigations in the field of 
the history of ancient religion is given by Sam Wide in the Einleit. 
in die Altertumswissensch. ii. ; here also remarks on the mythology 
of older times. The later part of Gruppe's work contains a very full 
treatment of the subject. 


Absolute definitions of the divine, 
i6, 19. 68, 69, 82, 88. 

Academics, 149. 

Academy, later, 108, 114. 

Acosta, 137, 139, 141. 

Aelian, 121. 

Aeneid (mediaeval), 136. 

Aeschines, 93. 

Aeschylus, 54, 55. 

Aetolians, 97, 98. 

Alchemistic explanation of Pagan- 
ism, 140. 

Alcibiades, 60. 

Alexander the Great, 93, 112. 

Allegorical interpretation, 104, 113, 
139, 140, 143, 144. 

American Paganism, 137, 139, 141. 

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, 7, 13, 
25-29, 30, 31, 40, 62, 63, 66, 124. 

Anaximenes, 30. 

Angelology, 129. 

Anthropomorphism, 14, 18, 19, 69. 

Antisthenes, 13, 74, 109. 

Apologists, 128, 130, 132, 139. 

Arcissewsky, 138. 

Aristides the Apologist, 129. 

Aristides Rhetor, 121. 

Aristodemus, 60, 62. 

Aristophanes, 30, 32, 33, 39, 55, 
56-58, 65. — Birds, 32. — Cloiids, 
30. 55. 5^5^— Progs, 55. 

Aristotle, 13, 30, 32, 46, 83-87, 104, 
113. — Ethics, 84. — Metaphysics, 
85-86.— Politics, 84. 

Aristoxenus, 32, 33. 

Asclepius, III, 121, 126. 

Asebeia, 6, 7, 8. 

Aspasia, 27. 

Atheism (and Atheist) defined, i ; 
rare in antiquity, 2, 133 ; of 
recent origin, 2, 143 ; origin of 
the words, 5 ; lists of atheists, 
13 ; punishable by death in 
Plato's Laws, 77 ; sin of youth, 

Athene, 74. 

Athens, its treatment of atheism, 
6-8, 9, 12, 25, 39, 65 foil., 74, 75, 
83, 86 ; its view of sophistic, 

Atheos (atheoi), 2, 10, 13, 14, 19, 23, 

29, 43, 75, 110. 
Atheotes, 2. 

Augustine, St., 129, 135. 
Augustus, 117; religious reaction 

of, 100, 113, 117, 120. 
Aurelius, Marcus, 11, 121. 

Bacon, Francis (De Sap. Vet.) 

Banier, 142, 143. 
Bible, 130, 142. 
Bion, 13, 109. 
Brazil, 138. 
Bruno, Giordano, 151. 
Bryant, 144. 
Buttmann, 152. 

Caelius Calcagninus, 141. 

Caehus Rhodiginus, 141. 

Callicles, 48 foil., 63. 

Carlyle, 112. 

Cameades, 8, 108. 

Cassander of Macedonia, iii. 

Charon, 135. 

Christianity, 126, 128-32. 

Christians, their atheism, 9 ; pro- 
secutions of, 10 ; demonology, 83. 

Cicero, 19, 105, 1 14-17, 147. — 
Nature of the Gods, 115. — On the 
State, 115. — On the Laws, 115. — 
De consolatione , 116. 

Cinesias, 60. 

Copernicus, 151. 

Critias, 13, 44-50. — Sisyphus, 44 f., 

Criticism of popular religion, 16, 
17. 19. 35 foU-. 74. 78. 82, 84, 88, 
90, 99, 104, 109, no, 122, 124-26. 

Cuthites, 144. 

Cynics, 74, 109-10, 122, 124, 147. 
Cyrenaics, 75. 



Daimonion of Socrates, 65, 66, 

van Dale, ii\x-\z. 
Dante, 135. 
Deisidaimon, 75. 
Demeter, 42, 43, Si. 
Demetrius of Phalerum, 75, 93. — 

On Tyche, 93. 
Democritus, 24, 42, 43, 44, 47, 52. 
Demonology, 81-83, 105, 113, 127- 

32, 134-42, 148, 149- 
Demosthenes, 92-93, 96. 
Devil, 132, 137, 139, 141, 144. 
Diagoras of Melos, 13, 31-34, 39, 

50. — -Apopyrgizontes logoi, 32, 33. 
Dicaearchus, 98. 
Diodorus Siculus, 112. 
Diogenes of Apollonia, 13, 29-30, 57. 
Diogenes the Cynic, 109. 
Dionj^sus, 42, 43. 
Diopeithes, 28. 
Dioscuri, 124. 
Dium, 98. 
Divination, iS, 20, 26, 27, 28, 40, 

97, 114, 131, 135, 137, 140-42.— 

Comp. Oracle. 
Dodona, 98, 141. 
Dogmatics, loS. 
Domitian, 11. 
Dupuis, 144. 

Elements, divine, 23, 24, 30, 52 foil., 

57, 81, 103, 127." 
Eleusinian Mysteries, 32, 33, 40, 60. 
pnnius, 99, 112. 
Epicureans, Epicurus, 13, 76, 80, 

83. 105-7, ii3> 147. 149- 
Euhemerus, Euhemerism, 13, iio- 

12, 113, 114, 117, 127, 130, 136, 

137. 139, 140. 142, 143. 144- 
Euripides, 16, 17, 21, 45, 46, 48, 
51-56, 62. — Bellerophon, 53. — 
Melanippe, 55, 56. 

Fallen angels, 128, 129, 130. 
Florentine Academy, 138. 
Foreign gods, 70, 89, 103. 
Fontenelle, 142. 

Geocentric view, 150. 
Ger yon, 135. 
Giants, 18. 
Gorgias, 37. 

Hades, 81. 

Heavenly bodies, 2, 20, 22, 25, 43, 
62, 66, 79, 80, 81, 84, 87, 104, 

127, 128, 130, 137, 139, 144, 149, 

Heavenly phenomena, 22. 
Hebraism, 139, 143, 144. 
Hecataeus of Abdera, 112. 
Heliocentric view, 151. 
Hellenistic philosophy, 94, 103-10. 

Hephaestus, 42, 43. 
Heracles, 74, iii. 
Hercules, 136. 
Herder, 145. 
Hermae, 40, 60. 
Hermes, 124. 
Hermias, 83. 
Herodotus, 28, 29. 
Hesiod, 16, 18. 
Heyne, 152. 

Hippo of Rhegium, 13, 29-30. 
Holy War, 96. 
Homer, 16, 18, 43, 68, 106. 
Horace, 117. 
Huet, 139. 
Hylozoism, 23. 

Ideas, Platonic, 80. 

Idolatry attacked, 123. — See also 

Image Worship. 
Ignorance, Socratic, 68. 
Image Worship, 127, 128, 131-37. 

Jews, their atheism, 9, 126. 

Josephus, 128. 

Judaism, 126, 127-28, 129. 

Juno Regina, 136. 

Jupiter (in Dante), 135 ; (in the 

Thebais,) 136. 
Jupiter-priest, 100. 

Kepler, 151. 
Kronos, iii. 

Lampon, 26. 
Lobeck, 152. 
Lucian, no, 123-26. — Timon, 124. 

■ — Dialogues of the Gods, 125. 
Lucretius, 106. 
Luna Jovis filia, 136. 

Macedonia, 93. 
Machiavelli, 141. 
Magic, 136-37. 
Mannhardt, 152. 
Man tinea, constitution of, 32. 
Marcus AureUus, 11, 121. 
Mediaeval epic poets, 136. 
Megarians, 74, 107. 



Menippus of Gadara, i lo. 

Mexico, 137. 

Middle Ages, 133, 135-39- 

-Milton (Paradise Lost), 134, 135. 

Minos, 135. 

Miracles, pagan, 131, 132. 
Modesty, religious, 55, 70, 73. 
Moschion, 46. 
Moses and his sister, 139. 
Monotheism, 9, 12, 23, 74. So, 83, 

127 foil., 139, 148, 151. 
Miiller, K. O', 152. 

Natalis Comes, 139 foil. 
Naturalism, Ionian, 21, 22-25, 

30-31, 52, 57. 
Negroes, 18. 
Neo-Platonists, 83, 121. 
Neo- Pythagoreans, 83, 121. 
Nero, II. 
Newton, 151. 
Nile, 42. 
Nomas (and PAysts), 35, 36, 38, 63, 

Nymphs, 136. 

Oenomaus {The Swindlers Un- 
marked), 122-23, 126. 

Old Testament, 127, 129. 

Oracle of Ammon, 07 ; oracles of 
Boeotia, 97 ; Delphic Oracle, 
28, 60, 67, 68, 71, 72, 77, 93, 96, 
97, 123, 141 ; decay of oracles, 
96-97 ; oracles explained by 
priestly fraud, 123, 141-42. 

Ovid, 117. 

Paganism of Antiquity, its char- 
acter, 15. 

Panchaia, iii. 

Parmenides, 21. 

Pantheism, 20, 23, 103, 119, 122, 

Paul, St., 128. 

Pericles, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 124. 

Peripatetics, 147, 149. 

Peru, 137. 

Pheidias, 27. 

Philip Tii. of Macedonia, 96. 

Phihp V. of Macedonia, 97-9^ 

Philo, 128. 

Phocians, 96. 

Physis (and Novnos), 35. 36, 63, 74. 

Pindar, i(>, 17, 52, 71. 

Plato, 13, 39. 48, 49. 5". 5^< 59. 
61-G3, 65, 66, 72, 76-81, 82, 84, 

113, 147. — Apology, 59, 65, 66, 
68, 72, 78, 79- — Euthyphron, 67, 
76. — Gorgias, 48 foil., 63, 77. — 
Laws, 61 foil., 77, 78, 79, 80. — • 
Republic, 50, 56, 77, 78. — Sym- 
posium, 82. — Timaeus, 77, 79, 80. 

Platonism, 148. 

Plethon, 138. 

Pliny the Elder, 94, 95, 118, 147. 

Plutaixh {de def. orac.), 97. 

Polybius, 48, 90-91, 94, 99, 113-14. 
147 ; Stoicism in P., 114. 

Pomponazzi [De Lncantat.), 141. 

Poseidon, 42, 81. 

Poseidonius, 104. 

Prodicus of Ceos, 13, 42-44, 104. 

Protagoras of Abdera, 13, 39-4-. 
47. — On the Gods, 39 foil. — 
Original State, 47. 

Providence, 60, 61, 78, 105, 118, 

Pythia, 93. 

Reaction. reUgious, of second cen- 
tury, 120-21, 125 ; of Augustus, 
see Augustus. 

Reinterpretation of the conceptions 
of the gods, 2. — See also Alle- 
gorical interpretation. 

Religion a political invention, 47, 

Religious thought, early, of Greece, 
16-17, 52. 54. 55. 69-70. 71. 84. 
88, 98, 107. 

Renaissance, 133, 138, 139 foil., 

Rohde, 152. 

Roman Academy, 138. 

Roman religion, 90, 99-100, 101-2. 

Roman State-worship, decay of, 

Romance of Troy, 136. 

Romances, 95-96. 

Rome's treatment of atheism, 8-11. 

Rousseau, 145. 

Scepticism, 107-8, 114, 147. 

Schoolmen, 135. 

Seneca, no, 122. 

Sibylline books, 97. 
I Sisyphus, 45, 48. 

Socrates, 7, 13, 40, 46, 49, 56, 58 
0^-7^, 84, 107, 147. See also 
I Daimonion of S. 

Socratic philosophy, 64, 87, 149. 

Socratic Schools, 73, 87-88. 
! Sol invictus, 136. 



Solon, 1 6. 

Sophistic, 35-38, 57, 64, 87, 104, 

148, 149. 
Sophocles, 28, 54. 
Stilpo, 13, 74, 108. 
Stoics, 83, 103-5, 113, 118, 119, 

121-22, 147, 148, 149. 
Strabo, 97. 
Strato, 87, 108. 
Suetonius, 121. 
Supernaturalism, 149—51. 
Superstition, 75, 90, 102, 123, 126. 

Tapuis, 138. 

Thales, 24. 

Theba'is (mediaeval), 136. 

Theodicy (Sociatic), 67. 

Theodoras, 13, 75-76, 108, 109. — 

On the Gods, 75. 
Theophrastus, 13, 86. 
Thermon, 98. 
Thomas Aquinas, 131, 135, 138, 

139, 140. 
Thracians, 18. 
Thrasymachus, 50, 62. 
Thucydides (the historian), 28-29, 

92, 94- 
Thucydides (the statesman), 26. 
Tiberius, 118. 
Tisiphone, 136. 
Titans, 18. 

Tolerance in antiquity, 9, 11. 
Trajan, 11. 
Tullia, 116. 
Tyche, 91-96, 118. 
Typhoeus, 140. 

Uranos, iii. 
U saner, 152. 

Valerius Maximus, 118. 

Varro, 100, no. 

Vico {Scienza Nuova), 143. 

Violation of sanctuaries, 40, 60, 97, 

Virgil, 117. 
Voss, G. I., 135, 138, 141. 

Wisdom of Solomon, 128. 
Worship rejected, 9-13, 60, 74, 77, 
84, 109, 123, 125. 

Xenocrates, 81-82, 105, 113, 129. 
Xenophanes of Colophon, 13, 17- 

21, 52, 56. 
Xenophon, 58, 59, 62, 66, 67. — 

Memorab. 58, 60. — Apology, 58. 

Zeller, 76, 79. 
Zeno of Elea, 21. 

Zeus, 16, 22, 30, 43, 55, 57, 58, 81, 
105, III, 124. 





In Collaboration with ADMIRAL A. D. BUBNOV 

With a Preface by Dr. HAROLD WILLIAMS 

With Six Maps Demy 8vo. Cloth lOS. 6d. net 

Public opinion is inclined to regard the Washington Con- 
ference as a masterly achievement in the direction of eliminating 
all chances of an armed conflict in the Pacific. The Russian 
author, General N. Golovin, whose book "The Problems of the 
Pacific in the Twentieth Century " is shortly to appear, cherishes 
no such illusions. He has made a dispassionate and thorough 
study of the economic, political, and military conditions of present- 
day Japan and of her exceptional skill in making diplomacy the 
obedient servant of her national aims. The uninterrupted and 
rapid growth of the population of the Japanese islands makes it 
imperative for Japan to increase her territory. Whether such an 
expansion is possible without infringement upon the sovereign rights 
of other nations and without armed resistance on the part of 
these nations is the gist of the problem. The author shows 
that it is Japan's aim, pursued with masterly perseverance and 
foresight, to be fully equipped, in respect of naval bases, armed 
forces, and economic safeguards, for the attainment of this national 
aim, enforcing, if need be, her will upon other nations. As a 
result of a close personal investigation of the present-day condition 
of Japan and of strictly scientific treatment of his subject, General 
Golovin has contributed a book which will undoubtedly be of 
great interest to all students of politics and of military science, as 
well as to the general public. 



Crown é^to Jlhistrated 15S. net 

These stories were collected in various parts of Green- 
land, taken down from the lips of the Eskimo story-tellers 
themselves, by Knud Rasmussen, the Danish explorer, who 
is a leading authority on Greenland and its people. The 
stories bring before us the daily life of the Eskimos, their 
manners and customs, and the curious " spirit world " which 
forms their primitive religion. 

This collection, the first of its kind, is edited especially 
with a view to interesting the widest class of readers. The 
work is in many ways unique, offering as it does material 
from an almost untouched source, in a form calculated to 
appeal to every type of reader. There is all the fascina- 
tion of the fairy tale and the story of adventure, the charm 
of a little-known country, as shown in the words of the 
natives themselves. Lovers of folk-lore and students of 
literature will find most interesting parallels and contrasts 
to the legends of other lands. 

The illustrations, by native Eskimo artists, are of an 
altogether distinctive type, and admirably suited to the 




Translated by C. C. RICHARDS 
W itli a Preface by Proi\ PERCY GARDNER 

Crmv7i ^fo Cloth 2IS. net 

This important archæological work by the Keeper of 
the Classical Department of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 
Copenhagen, is based on a lengthy stay at Delphi in 1907, 
and is copiously illustrated by photographs. 

"A scholarly and attracti\e account . . highly interesting . . . 
illustrated with good photographs." — Spectator. 

"An admirable guide . . . every one in England who has visited or 
wished to visit Delphi will welcome Dr. Poulsen's book." 

Westminster Gazette. 

"This magnificent book . . . will be enormously prized by every 
scholar and Hellenist among us." — Bookman, 

" He writes with the enthusiasm of an archæologist, the discrimination 
of a historian, the suggestiveness of an expert in mythology, religion, 
and philosophy . . . the book is an invaluable addition to our know- 
ledge of Greek mythology and archæology." — Southport Guardian. 




With Four Plates 8s. net 

Contents : — The Pedipalpi, Ricinulei and Opiliones (exc. O. Lania- 
tores), collected by Mr. Leonardo Fea in tropical West Africa and 
adjacent Islands (with Four Plates)— On Stridulation in Crustacea 
Decapoda — On the Postembryonic Occurrence of the Median " Dorsal 
Organ " in Crustacea Malacostraca. 

L, IL, m. 


1. The Soul-life of a Child in its First Four Years. 

3s. 6d. net 

II. The Kindergarten Child: Its conception of life and 

its mental powers. 5s. 6d. net 

III. The Kindergarten Child: Thought, imagination, and 

feeling ; will and morale. 4s. net 

"Accurate and interesting . . . chapters of absorbing interest . . . 
serious and illuminating . . . should be of very great value to teachers 
and parents." — Bookman. 

"The book is valuable because it is based on evidence and tests 
. . . deals exhaustively with the child ... we cordially recommend 
these volumes." — Court Journal. 

"Their value cannot be overestimated . . . skilful, first-hand ob- 
servation . . . should be read by every teacher and by every intelligent 
parent . . . interesting to the fascination point."- — Athenæuin. 

" These fascinating volumes will be read with pleasure and instruc- 
tion . . . should do much to place the study of child psychology in 
childhood on a scientific footing." — Medical Times. 

" Rich in instruction and suggestion." — Scotsman. 

"An important and valuable treatise appealing to parents and the 
general reader . . ." — Soufhport Gttardian. 

" A service to the child and the parent . . they should be of great 
interest to the parent . . straightforward, simple, and readable." 

Liverpool Courier. 

The Second Danish 


Vol. I. Studies in the Vegetation of the Transcaspian 
Lowlands, 191 2. 5s. net 

Vol. II. Studies in the Vegetation of Pamir, 1920. 

7s. 6d. net 
A report of the botanical results of the expedition, with 
chapters on the climate, structure, and geology. Illustrated 
from photographs. 




This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 

Renewed books-are subject to immediate recall. 



M 619BT 11 

( : . t'.lC . 

iijN13 ^3: 

Rt^o - LD 


13 ! 9c3 2 4 

APR 3 1972 91 

SarDLD MAR 2372 -5 PM 3 » 

APR 2 9 1970 



FEB 1 f) i'^175 



m). cm. jtji! 2.1 11 


LD 21A-60m-2,'67 

General Library 

University of California